Outdoor dining has given some restaurants at least a fighting chance of survival during the summer months. But you can already feel fall in the air, so many restaurant owners have been pushing hard for the resumption of indoor service. This week they got their wish, as Governor Cuomo lifted some additional COVID-19 restrictions, allowing restaurants to open starting September 30 at 25% capacity.
Six months after New York City was shut down to fight coronavirus, the restaurant industry has been devastated. Lower East Side casualties include places such as Fat Radish, Gaia Italian Cafe, An Choi, Beverly’s, Cocoa Bar and Randall’s. Eater reported that almost one-thousand restaurants and bars have closed during the pandemic.
Restaurants that reopen their indoor spaces will be required to conduct temperature checks for all diners, space tables six feet apart and install air filtration systems. Masks will be required when customers get up from their tables. No bar seating will be allowed. If New York City’s infection rates remain low during the month of October, the city and state will look at boosting capacity to 50%.
Restaurant owners were encouraged by the governor’s announcement, but there’s still widespread pessimism about the industry’s future. Even at 100% capacity, most NYC restaurants struggle to pay sky high rents and meet other financial obligations. While some landlords have allowed commercial tenants to defer rent payments, the bill will eventually come due. Without a federal bailout, which is nowhere close to becoming a reality, mass restaurant closures seen inevitable. One local restaurant operator explained the situation to Business Insider:
Amanda Cohen, the owner of Dirt Candy, a restaurant in New York’s Lower East Side, (said) she’s skeptical of the benefits of reopening dining rooms at 25% capacity. For her 75-person restaurant, a 25% capacity limit would mean she’d only be able to serve 12 guests at a time, when accounting for about six staff members. “It literally makes no sense to put my life at risk and my staff members at risk for 12 people to come and dine at Dirt Candy,” Cohen said. “I’m going to have increased costs and I’m not going to be able to make that much more money.”
As Gothamist noted, a recent survey by the New York State Restaurant Association found that two-thirds of NYC restaurants would likely shutter for good if government relief doesn’t come to fruition by the end of the year.