STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Planning a wedding or milestone birthday bash in New York City? The good news is that the party can go on indoors at a catering hall after Sept. 30. Until further restrictions change going forward from that point, however, it cannot be more than 50 people at a clip.
Allowances for restaurants in New York State also will translate to catering halls, according to a spokesman for the governor’s office. Banquet venues can operate at either 25% indoor capacity or 50 people, whichever is less, by September’s end.
According to the “New York Forward Business Reopening Lookup Tool,” the non-essential gathering limit is 50 people or 50% maximum occupancy. Note that the number outside of New York City is raised to 50% capacity. In NYC come Sept. 30, that will be 25% exclusive of employees. Caterers must go by the lesser number. Take-out, delivery or outdoor dining or catering services are currently allowed.
Right now, there is a banquet ban only in New York City.
To be clear, a spokesman said that after Sept. 30, permitted indoor catering will happen in New York City with limitations on the size of the event “to the lower of 50 people or 25% capacity.”
Why are catering halls and restaurants considered differently?
Administration spokesman Jack Sterne said, “Thanks to our science-based reopening rules and New Yorkers’ hard work, we have achieved and maintained record low infection rates, but with the risk of a second wave on the horizon, we must continue to make smart decisions. Unlike restaurants, where groups of patrons are limited to 10 individuals and generally stay separate at their tables, catering halls host events where large groups of individuals who know each other mingle — increasing the risk of COVID transmission and requiring stronger limits on the number of attendees.”
Interaction between people at large gatherings, the spokesman said, creates a risk of a “super spreader” event. He referenced an outbreak in Maine linked to a wedding reception that infected 147 people and resulted in three deaths.
CONFUSION ON THE RULES
There has been some confusion among proprietors over the catering hall allowances since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the Sept. 30 commencement of indoor dining for restaurants. Some caterers subsequently received a mailing under the New York City “Open Restaurants” program. The upshot: these particular rules outlined with the 25% capacity for indoor dining in restaurants do not carry over to banquet halls. Also, state laws regarding restrictions supersede those of the city, a spokesman points out.
Still, caterers are looking for answers on what can and cannot be done. As per polled business owners, their concerns primarily are preventing spread of COVID-19 and avoiding large fines. One venue’s proprietor was worried about liability insurance: the operator was undecided as to whether or not he was going to renew his business’ policy unless “we could open up with a reasonable amount of people per event.”
SUCCESSFUL PARTIES AND GATHERINGS
Taste of Honey operates Nansens Lodge, a sprawling campground in Travis with a covered picnic area.
“We originally thought opening at 25% indoors would be 100 people and then combined with outdoor parties we could make a go at it. But at 50 and under just won’t cut it,” said Brian Kornbrekke, chef and owner of the Sons of Norway catering contract.
He said, “We have been fairly busy with off-site catering which has allowed me to keep my kitchen staff employed and help with some of the recurring bills. We have also been handling dance recitals under the pavilion. This way some revenue is coming in for the Lodge.”
He said that bit of income is a “drop in the bucket” for the $100,000 property tax bill that the lodge owes annually.
“We need some sort of change. We are willing to take precautions and protect our staff and guests but with these small numbers it is very hard,” Kornbrekke admitted.
Daddino’s Grand Ballroom in Seaview has taken its parties outdoors on the patio since August.
Chef and owner Lou Marfoglio said they’ve adjusted their approach to food presentations.
“We do French service — we roll the buffet and serve the guest and food is plated for individual guests tableside. You need room to that and luckily the ballroom is so huge on the outside,” said Marfoglio.
As of August, the Hilton Garden Inn, Bloomfield, has availability for parties for between 20 and 50 people at four outdoor spaces — the Garden Gazebo, Nicotra’s Ballroom Park Avenue Tulip Plaza, and at the entrance to Above on a tent-covered patio. More recently, the Hilton added a modified space in their Trevi Banquet Room which has open air flow and is staged under a tented roof.
The Bloomfireld venue’s owners, Lois and Richard Nicotra said, “We are following government guidelines and protocols-and our most important goal is to keep our employees and guests safe.” They are not aware of any Executive Order from the Governor about weddings and catering.
“We are waiting to hear more and will proceed accordingly once any guidance is in place,” they said. In the meantime, the Nicotras and their chef for Lorenzo’s, Nicotra’s Ballroom and Above have designed a special event menu specific to outdoor events. The Hilton also has scheduled physically distant tours of the space and gardens.
The Staaten in West Brighton remains closed. Out of respect, loyalists of the LiGreci family’s catering hall sometimes gather in socially distanced circles around or under its portico in the parking lot. As an example, the North Shore Rotary Club has been meeting there since it was founded in 1957. And the group has no intention of breaking that routine.
Rotary president Frank Wilkinson held his office installation in the Staaten parking lot over the summer. He said, “It’s more about tradition and our history along with the amazing relationship and partnership we have with the LiGreci’s, who are not only supportive of our efforts but the community as a whole.”
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].