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More Than 90 Percent of NYC Restaurants Could Not Pay Full Rent in December, Survey Says

A new survey shows the city’s restaurants can’t pay rent while subsisting on takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining — especially during the winter

Outdoor Service Continues Through Winter In New York City Due To Pandemic Restrictions Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

As New York City approaches the one-year anniversary of its first reported case of coronavirus, the citywide rent crisis continues to deepen. A new survey of more than 400 businesses from the New York City Hospitality Alliance shows that a staggering 92 percent of restaurants could not pay full rent in December.

The portion of businesses unable to pay their rent has steadily increased since last June, when the citywide organization first started collecting survey data, and an estimated 80 percent of restaurants could not pay rent. Those numbers have only worsened as temperatures dipped, funds from the Paycheck Protection Program dried up, and uncertainty around the status of indoor dining in NYC continues to loom.

The latest survey data accounts for rent payments during the month of December, when restaurants and bars were restricted to takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining service following a citywide ban on indoor dining. At that time, many businesses decided it would be cheaper to temporarily close for the winter season and pay for multiple months of rent than to remain open for service.

According to the December survey, 60 percent of landlords had not waived any rent payments during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the 40 percent that did, less than a fifth waived more than half of a business’ rent. An alarming — though perhaps unsurprising — 86 percent of respondents say they have not been able to renegotiate the terms of their leases during the pandemic.

Indoor dining is now allowed at 25 percent capacity across the five boroughs, a move that the NYC Hospitality Alliance applauded — and then criticized, calling on elected officials to expand indoor dining to 50 percent capacity, as is the case elsewhere in the state. “While the reopening of highly regulated indoor dining is welcome news, we need to safely increase occupancy to 50 percent as soon as possible, and we urgently need robust and comprehensive financial relief from the federal government,” says Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

Some restaurant and bar owners have declined to partake in indoor dining, citing safety concerns for restaurant workers and staff, while others say that 25 percent is not enough to stay afloat. The return of indoor dining, an extended 11 p.m. curfew, warmer weather on the horizon, and a possible infusion of federal aid may all be cause for optimism in the months ahead, but experts say a full economic recovery in NYC will likely take years.

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