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Does the City have any sort of program that can make the process of obtaining multiple licenses any easier?
We used to say that we were baffled how the City could coordinate multiple regulatory agencies to show up at a restaurant or bar to shut them down, but they couldn’t coordinate those same agencies to help get a new business opened up. It was ridiculous. But after years of advocacy our voice was heard. We were invited by then Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn to advise them on ways to make the permitting and licensing process easier. Working with our partners at the Chambers of Commerce we guided the creation of the Business Acceleration Team, which now helps restaurateurs identify the necessary permits they need, conduct plan reviews and coordinate multi-agency inspections. This program has been a huge help and significantly reduced the time it takes to open a new restaurant. But of course, no system is perfect, so we continue to speak with our members about the pain points they experience when opening a new business. Then we work with Mayor de Blasio’s Administration on ways to further enhance the process. We were also appointed by NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer to his Cut the Red Tape Commission and the Health Department’s Advisory Board. Both are venues where we’re pushing for more regulatory reform. It’s an ongoing process. Persistence and patience will be key to our success.
We are not hearing the same buzz that was around in the early days of letter grade health inspections.
We won important reforms to the Letter Grade system during the latter part of Mayor Bloomberg’s time in office. A major reform was Penalty Relief which means that a restaurant doesn’t pay fines if an inspector issues them an A-letter grade. That reform coupled with others reduced fines by tens of millions of dollars a year. However, the Letter Grade system is still ripe for reform. Mayor de Blasio campaigned on further reducing regulatory burdens at the Health Department. Unfortunately he hasn’t taken real action after three years in office. So we’re still pushing for reforms that would be welcomed by restaurants and not jeopardize public health. For example, violations that are not imminent health hazards should be given an opportunity to be corrected before a fine is levied and a letter grade is impacted. Also, a restaurant’s letter grade and frequency of inspection should be based on a judge’s ruling and not the accusations made by the Health Department inspector, which happens now. Restaurateurs should be given due process afforded by the American legal system.
It’s been a warm winter… never too early to think about outdoor cafes? What’s new from the ‘City regarding that.
We got a change in the law that sped up sidewalk cafe approval process which was great. But most notably, a few years ago we worked with the City Council and other stakeholders on what became referred to as the Brunch Bill. It changed the law to allow restaurants to begin operating their sidewalk cafes at 10:00am on Sundays, instead of noon. The change in the law gave restaurants an important, additional two hours to generate revenue. And of course, this change was welcomed by brunch loving New Yorkers. But nothing in New York is easy. An old blue law still prohibits the sale of alcohol before noon on Sundays. So while you can now enjoy your Eggs Benedict on a sidewalk café before noon on Sunday, you can’t wash it down with a Bloody Mary. The good news is that the State Senate and Assembly have introduced legislation to allow alcohol to be served at 10:00am on Sundays. And through the NYC Hospitality Alliance’s appointment to Governor Cuomo’s Liquor License Modernization Commission, we’re hopeful that we’ll get the outdated law changed soon.
Andrew Rigie is the Executive Director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a trade association formed in 2012 to foster the growth and vitality of the industry that has made New York City the Hospitality Capital of the World.