Restaurants have new regs, new challenges 1

Richard Khuzami, left, president of the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association, and his group on Tuesday hosted a talk with Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, to discuss how restaurants in western Queens should prepare for new indoor and outdoor dining regulations with colder weather soon in the offing.

Like every restaurant owner, Elena Calderon of Rincon Salvadorean in Jamaica has had six months of difficult decisions.

The first one, back in March, was not to remain open just for takeout and delivery. The next was deciding to reopen last week in preparation for this week’s reintroduction of indoor dining at 25 percent capacity.

“About half our customers are from outside the area,” Calderon told the Chronicle, making staying open a chancy proposition when people were restricting their travel. The business, begun by her late husband, has been open for 40 years.

She said they now are linked with some of the delivery apps — “But with takeout not a lot of people buy beverages” — has set up a dining area in front of her 149th Street business, and that she was looking forward to welcoming her customers back.

“We make everything fresh,” she said. “When you come in and order soup, you wait for me to make the soup. I don’t have a pot sitting on the stove.” Her wide building will allow her the advantage of more tables than narrower businesses, and she has done all her homework on health and safety requirements for customers and staff.

“But I don’t know if 25 percent is enough.”

With restaurants, bars and clubs playing an ever-growing role in the economy of western Queens, Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said Calderon’s concern is a common one speaking remotely Tuesday night at an online meeting of the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association.

“Twenty-five percent is extremely difficult,” Rigie said. “Even before the pandemic, operating a bar or a restaurant at 100 percent capacity in New York City was incredibly difficult.”

Rigie said the rule, which kicked in Wednesday, has a few advantages over outdoor dining. He said that while closing time is midnight, seven days per week, people dining indoors have a 30-minute buffer to finish beverages, dessert and the like; under outdoor dining, customers must be gone by 11 p.m. sharp.

He said all customers not seated at tables must be wearing masks, and that employees who are not seated at a table on a break do not count toward the 25 percent number.

He said new outdoor dining regulations allow restaurants to use sidewalk space of adjacent businesses with permission from the building owner; and the owner may not charge rent for the space.

Rigie said there are still questions about whether a restaurant’s liquor license would apply to adjacent outdoor space.

And if a restaurant chooses to enclose its outdoor seating area to keep it warmer as the weather turns colder, then it counts as indoors and comes under the 25 percent occupancy restrictions.

While restaurants are required to take the temperature of all customers entering, the state limit is 100 degrees, while the federal standard is 100.4.

And any customer without a mask should be denied entry.

“There will be some things right now where it will be difficult to get concrete clarity,” Rigie said. “Just use common sense and make sure public heath is a priority.”

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