Governor tightens restrictions on serving alcohol at restaurants

Schatzi's in Poughkeepsie.

ALBANY – Thursday’s briefing by Governor Cuomo included a new restriction that has created confusion among bar and restaurant owners across the state.  The new order affects many bars, restaurants, and distilleries with tasting rooms in New York.

The governor announced new regulations for bars and restaurants in New York City and to an extent, statewide, to ensure they are complying with state social distancing and face-covering orders. According to Cuomo’s office, “As part of the ‘Three Strikes and You’re Closed’ initiative, any establishment that receives three violations will be closed for business. Egregious violations can result in the immediate loss of liquor license or closure before a third strike. Additionally, any establishment facing disciplinary charges by the State Liquor Authority (SLA) will have its name and location posted publicly and updated on a weekly basis. If the state is alerted to similar noncompliance in other regions of the state, these restrictions will be extended to those areas immediately.”

The governor went further with the order, saying “All restaurants and bars statewide will be subject to new requirements that they must only serve alcohol to people who are ordering and eating food and that all service at bar tops must only be for seated patrons who are socially distanced by six feet or separated by physical barriers. Under current law, only establishments that serve food are permitted to serve alcoholic beverages. People who see violations or are concerned can report complaints, including photos, to the SLA at

The food service ruling raised several questions among Hudson Valley bar/restaurant owners.  The order did not indicate when the rule goes into effect when announced on Thursday morning, as to what is considered “food” and whether customers can still sit at the physical bar. Late Thursday night the state indicated that the ruling goes into effect on Friday, July 17.

Jeremy Phillips is associated with several bars and restaurants in the area, “We’re going to err on the side of caution based on today’s announcement.”  The owner of Schatzi’s pubs and part owner of Zeus Brewing called the announcement vague. “We’re not sure where or when we will receive clarification from the state.”  He noted that his bars are still closed, and customers are only permitted to sit at tables for food and beverages.

Governor Cuomo insists that the ruling is to slow the resurgence of the coronavirus.  Social-distancing is a major focus.  Bars can continue to serve patrons at the actual bar, provided they follow the new order. The order says patrons can eat and drink at the physical bar if they are seated at the bar top and either six feet from other patrons or separated by physical barriers. A customer cannot walk up to a bar, order a drink, and stand there to drink it while mingling and then walking back to their seat.  According to Cuomo, many establishments have neglected this restriction and enforcement will be increased.

Hudson Valley establishments that have arranged for outdoor seating will also be affected.  Customers for on-premises dining must be seated at a table and their orders must be placed with their server.  The only individuals who can order at the bar are those who are seated at the bar, with at least six feet or physical barriers between customers.

The new requirement that “food” must be purchased in order to consume alcoholic beverages is different for restaurants and bars, depending on the restrictions included in their liquor license.  Food must be ordered at the same time as the initial drink order is placed.

Poughkeepsie-based attorney Lorenzo Angelino specializes in helping restaurants, bars, and other establishments in dealing with the State Liquor Authority.  Prior to the release of the new guidelines, he was contacted by several of his clients seeking clarification.  The attorney has guided his clients by telling them “Wait for the liquor authority to give the final guidance for rules. In the interim, stick with social distancing guidelines, make sure everyone is seated, deliver food and drinks to the patrons, and make sure every table has some sort food component for now.”

Senator Sue Serino is pictured above with Senator Rob Orrt (Ranking Member of NYS Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Secuity and MIliarty Affairs) and Senator John Brooks (Committee Chair). Photo Credit: NYS Senate Photography.

State Senator Sue Serino (R, Hyde Park) was critical of the announcement. “Another day, another totally arbitrary rule released by the state with no warning or public input. Public health and safety must always be our top priority and we should be ensuring that all necessary rules are followed to promote it. But requiring food to be purchased in order for a hardworking New Yorker to enjoy a beer at a bar only drives up costs and penalizes those already hardest hit by the pandemic. This new rule will only hurt our smallest bars and restaurants — the ones who are barely getting by as it is. The state needs to do a better job of engaging community members who can help strike a more effective balance between preserving public health and keeping businesses open safely.”

The guidelines, released Thursday night, can be read in entirety, here.