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NYC Restaurateurs Demand an Indoor Dining Plan From the City

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With mounting rent payments and historic revenue losses, restaurant owners say a return to indoor dining is critical

A caution sign is seen outside an outdoor dining area on the Upper West Side as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on August 13, 2020 in New York City. 
A restaurant’s outdoor dining setup
Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images

New York City restaurant owners renewed their calls to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday to announce a plan for a return to indoor dining in the face of mounting rent payments, restaurant staffers without work, and months of historic revenue losses due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

While the rest of New York State resumed indoor dining at half capacity a couple of months ago, no guidelines have been issued for the city yet. The city was set to resume indoor dining on July 6, but the mayor and governor postponed it indefinitely a week prior to the restart.

“We are not asking to open tomorrow, we are just asking for a plan,” Tren’ness Woods-Black, the owner of 58-year-old Harlem institution Sylvia’s, said earlier today during a press conference organized by the NYC Hospitality Alliance to press the mayor and governor to release an indoor dining plan. “We need to be prepared and we need to budget our way into this reopening.”

With recent announcements on reopening plans for schools and gyms in the city, the calls for indoor dining have grown urgent. Last week, gym owners across the state sued Cuomo due to the lack of a reopening plan for gyms while other industries were reopening. The state allowed gyms to reopen at 33 percent capacity soon after that. The Hospitality Alliance similarly said Wednesday that a lawsuit was on the table, but they are hopeful to work together with the city and state instead.

Nearly 10,000 of the city’s 25,000 restaurants have been certified for outdoor dining so far, but owners say that seating outside isn’t enough to keep them afloat, particularly with the fall and winter months around the corner.

“How am I supposed to keep my outdoor area heated?” Alfredo Angueira, the owner of Mott Haven’s hip-hop-themed restaurant Beatstro, asked during the Hospitality Alliance call on Wednesday. “Should I just close operations until next spring? The fabric of NYC is at stake in terms of what this city is going to look like moving forward.”

Restaurant owners on the call pointed to the hundreds of restaurants that have closed in the city since the start of the pandemic and warned that more would follow without some type of return to indoor dining soon.

“It’s impossible to give an accurate representation of how many restaurants might close, but some may fight to stay open if they know indoor dining will return in September,” Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the Hospitality Alliance, said on Wednesday’s call.

Restaurant owners also pointed to the fact there hasn’t been a spike in COVID-19 cases across the state following the return of indoor dining at half capacity — unlike in other states, such as California and Texas — as yet another reason to reopen in NYC. The city has largely controlled the spread of the virus, and has one of the lowest infection rates across the country, more reasons to return to indoor dining in some form, restaurant owners say.

The fact that that nearly 60 percent of hospitality industry workers are still without a job in the city is yet another factor restaurant owners cited for the urgency in their renewed efforts to push for indoor dining.

Still, de Blasio does not seem entirely convinced due to public safety concerns. At a press conference on Tuesday he stressed his skepticism about a quick return to indoor dining.

“Unfortunately, bars, indoor restaurants, nightlife have been a huge nexus for the coronavirus, particularly resurgences of the coronavirus,” de Blasio said. “So, I’m very cautious on this point. I know the governor’s very cautious on this point. There’s been a lot of communication between city and state. We’re both going to be very, very careful about any kind of indoor dining.”

“New York City is in a different situation than Westchester County and it’s in a different situation than Nassau County, and anyone who has been following this situation at all realizes that,” Gov. Cuomo added during a press conference on Wednesday.

UPDATE 8/19/20: This story has been updated with Gov. Cuomo’s comments.

Additional reporting by Erika Adams