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Eateries in Rochester scramble to set up outdoor seating after state approval

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Restaurants and eateries in areas across New York rushed to set up outdoor seating Wednesday night and Thursday morning after an announcement Wednesday from the governor's office that gave the go-ahead for them to allow customers on-site with some restrictions. (WHAM photo)

(WHAM) - Tables and chairs? Check. Umbrellas? Check. Masks and measuring tape? Check.

Restaurants and eateries in areas across New York rushed to set up outdoor seating Wednesday night and Thursday morning after an announcement Wednesday from the governor's office that gave the go-ahead for them to allow customers on-site with some restrictions.

Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's direction, restaurants located in areas of New York that are in Phase 2 of reopening will be able to serve customers food and alcohol outdoors as long as they follow new guidelines from the state.

Those guidelines include spreading tables six feet apart, workers wearing masks at all times, and customers wearing masks until they are seated.

Groups of restaurants have been nudging Cuomo's office in this direction for weeks. The New York State Restaurant Association said last month it was pushing to get the industry up and running faster by asking the governor to allow restaurants to serve customers while spaced apart outdoors. Last week, the Town of Greece announced it would allow restaurants to apply for temporary outdoor seating permits.

Peter Jines, owner of Jines Restaurant in Rochester, said he is excited to get started.

"It's a first step. It's the first step to a return to full normalcy," Jines said. "We are happy. We're in the service industry - and we're actually servicing people. We're happy."

While limited seating is an issue for now, Jines said, it is a step toward being open again.

"We only have 24 seats - normally we have up to 40 out here," he said. "But we gotta be careful. We don't want to be greedy; we want to be safe."

“It’s great. It feels somewhat back to normal," said Jennifer Ritchie, a patron enjoying a meal outside of Jines. “I do feel safe. Everything is six feet apart. No cross contamination."

“It’s better than Christmas Eve," said Kiely Gagnier, across the street at Blu Wolf Bistro.

Even though people can sit outside again, no one is allowed inside, even if it starts raining.

“If it looks like it’s going to start getting bad, we’re going to encourage people to take their tabs and go because we can’t let them inside," said Kelly Bush, the President of the Rochester Branch of the New York State Restaurant Association. She says only a customer can go inside to use the restroom.

“There will be a way to get to certain bathrooms, and that’s per restaurant how they work that out. Some places may use dividers, that could be how their utilizing their space.”

Jim Smith, Deputy Mayor of Rochester, says they are working with city restaurants to maximize outdoor space, including waiving certain zoning regulations and permit fees.

“Let’s say a parking lot on the side of restaurant," he said. "Some of the spaces could be used instead for tables to allow for folks to be allowed to dine and the restaurant and employees to serve more customers by having more options.”

Another option for restaurants includes potentially shutting down some portions of roads to expand seating capability or to add tents to help provide cover in case of rain. Both of those have to be cleared by the city or town the restaurants reside in.

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