New York City's outdoor dining patrons who needed to relieve themselves were left out in the cold briefly by a state policy that forbade them from using a restaurant's indoor bathroom.
On Thursday, the city, through the Office of the Counsel to the Mayor, issued a guidance FAQ to help restaurants understand Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order shutting down indoor dining in the city this past Monday, as well as guidance from the State Liquor Authority (SLA) interpreting that order.
Among those FAQs was a question asking, "If my SLA-licensed establishment is offering outdoor dining, may I allow customers to use the bathroom inside?" The answer was an emphatic no. "No. Customers may not enter the inside of the establishment for any reason," reads the document.
The same document also made clear that restaurant staff were not allowed to share meals together. Employees were barred from eating or drinking at bars, in dining rooms, or other areas of their workplace that are used by the public. (Better that they eat their shift meal in a crowded kitchen, I guess.)
This FAQ document and the underlying state guidance sparked fierce criticism from restaurant advocates.
"The new guidance issued by [New York State] and shared by [New York City] on the indoor dining shutdown is another example of why restaurants and bars feel like government is purposely kicking them in the gut and then stopping [sic] on their hand when they're already down," said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, on Twitter last night. "This is absurd and must be fixed ASAP."
The new guidance issued by NYS and shared by NYC on the indoor dining shutdown is another example of why restaurants and bars feel like government is purposely kicking them in the gut and then stopping on their hand when they're already down. This is absurd and must be fixed ASAP https://t.co/dkCZ0yTq8X
— Andrew Rigie (@AndrewRigie) December 18, 2020
The guidance elicited no small amount of controversy from Twitter users as well.
Um, where in any CDC guidance has a risk been flagged related using a restroom, alone, while masked??
Keeping people safe AND allowing restaurants to survive are not mutually exclusive. This latest memo just adds to the insurmountable challenges these businesses already face.
— Barak Pliskin / Pliskin Architecture (@_panyc) December 18, 2020
This has to be a joke. Not allowed to use the toilet while outdoor dining? Not allowed to place orders on site? Not allowed to pass through the restaurant to access an outdoor backyard or patio seating area? https://t.co/A8OVX3ssHP
— ant????️???? (@AJPrincipato) December 18, 2020
@NYCMayorCounsel @NYCMayor the bathroom and ordering inside guidelines make no sense and are not based in science. If gyms are open, people should be able to use a bathroom when dining and drinking outside. You might as well go to takeout. This is torture.
— Rebecca Laurel Anderson (@OmegaBlonde) December 18, 2020
In response, members of Mayor Bill de Blasio's press team said on Twitter Friday morning that they had asked the state to revise its guidance, which it apparently did within a few hours.
The new rules are set by the State, not the City.
We've asked them to change the rules around bathroom use to keep outdoor dining viable and help our restaurants survive. https://t.co/u69Kq7bp1U
— Bill Neidhardt (@BNeidhardt) December 18, 2020
After discussions with the State, they have agreed to change the rule around bathroom access. https://t.co/d6DVCCa6Ow
— Avery Cohen (@CohenAvery) December 18, 2020
The SLA's own FAQ on Cuomo's indoor dining ban now unequivocally states that customers can in fact use a restaurant's bathroom.
The reversal is obviously a good thing for restaurants and diners alike. The state's speed in ditching this ridiculous restriction is commendable.
That a bathroom ban was ever imposed, however briefly, is nevertheless evidence of how arbitrary and heavy-handed Cuomo's public health restrictions on restaurants and bars have been. He's required customers to order food before they can be served drinks, then micromanaged what kind of food they have to order. He's dragged his feet on reopening indoor dining in New York City until the local government assigned thousands of cops to enforce social distancing rules.
This week, as mentioned, he's banned indoor dining in the city despite bars and restaurants being responsible for only 1.4 percent of COVID-19 infections, according to the state's own contact tracing data.
It's fortunate that New York City diners can now pee inside restaurants. Maybe they should be allowed to eat in them too.