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What are the guidelines expected for outdoor dining tents?

Posted at 6:26 PM, Dec 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-23 18:26:22-05

EAST AURORA, N.Y. (WKBW) — “If you see a business with tents or anything irregular, just know that business is struggling to pay it’s rent.”

Those are strong words from Anita Pfeiffer, who owns Mambrino King Cafe & Wine Bar in East Aurora. East Aurora has been under the state’s orange zone micro cluster designation for the past couple of weeks.

“It’s another day to check with the state to keep your business open,” she said of all the changing rules.

Driving in the small village of East Aurora, it’s hard not to see the tents popping up outside nearly each restaurant establishment.

Mambrino King says it purchased thousands of dollars worth of outdoor equipment to accompany the state’s changing guidelines for orange zone dining. In East Aurora, dining is supposed to be “outdoor and takeout only.”

Pfeiffer says recently, her business had been reported to the Erie County Health Department by someone driving by to say the tents were “not properly ventilated.”

It’s a similar situation down the road at Mickey Dee’s Cafe & Catering.

“The regulations are like a roller coaster,” said Mickey Dee’s owner Michael Joseph.

Joseph says the cafe, which primarily serves breakfast and lunch spent its Back to Business grant money on the tent and heating equipment.

“We’re struggling trying to adapt and we’re spending a lot of money,” he said.

The cafe says it got a visit from the health department with a similar complaint—the tent is not properly ventilated.

“There’s been zero guidance on anything. It seems like ‘figure it out, and if we don’t like what you’re doing we’re going to fine you.”

So, what is the guidance in terms of these outdoor tents?

The Erie County Health Department responded to our request saying, “Outdoor space” is defined as an open-air space designated for the consumption of food and/or beverage, which may have a temporary or fixed cover (e.g. awning or roof) so long as such cover has at least two open sides for airflow.”

Joseph, who says his tent is snow rated, indoor rated, and is heated with natural gas says it’s impossible for his customers to sit outside any other way.

“The small businesses who are the backbone of this country are getting crushed,” he said.

“What they’re saying is they want two sides of the tent completely off,” Pfeiffer said.

For Mambrino King, it’s equally as frustrating.

“I would like to see our government run the state without knowing what their rules are from day to day. I don’t see how small business is psychic,” she said.

Legislator Joe Lorigo, who represents the East Aurora area questions why it’s still in an orange zone, when numbers and positivity rates are lower than other areas of the state which are still in yellow.

Lorigo says county government needs to band together to help these businesses now more than ever.