NYC restaurant owners respond to indoor dining restrictions

'It's not going to fix the problem'

New York City restaurant owners whose businesses have been eaten alive by the coronavirus pandemic say new guidelines for indoor dining don’t cut it as industry-wide layoffs continue.

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said city restaurants can open for indoor dining at 25% capacity starting Sept. 30, but without bar service and regulations like temperature checks and requiring guests to give out personal information for contact tracing purposes if an outbreak occurs at the restaurant. There will also be no service after midnight.

Gov. Cuomo on Wednesday announced indoor dining restrictions at 25% capacity for Sept. 30. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

But after six months of shutdowns, with restaurants relying on delivery only or outdoor seating coupled with staff layoffs and inability to pay rent, owners say the move is too little too late.

“It’s not going to fix the problem,” Eytan Sugarman, owner of West Village bar and restaurant White Horse Tavern, which opened in 1880 and bills itself as the second-oldest bar in New York City.

“No one that has a full-service restaurant can operate at 25% capacity without a loss.”

CUOMO TO ALLOW INDOOR DINING AT 25% CAPACITY ON SEPT. 30

Sugarman was forced to close down his bar in July after the New York State Liquor Authority suspended its license until further notice for receiving multiple violations for customers overcrowding in the bar’s street cafe space. Sugarman hopes to reopen the bar this week, and will resume seating indoors on Sept. 30.

“This is by no means a lifeline that’s going to save us all, but it’s a start,” Sugarman added.

ICONIC NYC BAR WHITE HORSE TAVERN FORCED TO CLOSE

More than 150 restaurants and bars have closed since the beginning of the pandemic in March and there have been around 70 shutdowns in the month of August alone, Eater reported. And capacity restraints have made it impossible for many restaurant owners to afford to pay rent. Nearly 40% of owners surveyed by the New York City Hospitality alliance said they couldn’t pay rent for the month of July. 

Restaurants in New York City were allowed to open for outdoor dining in June, however, with fall approaching as the weather cools down, owners have been urging city officials to allow them to reopen for indoor dining.

“Obviously we’re looking forward to start to get open, but it's still a long haul ahead, but if anyone thinks this solves the hospitality industry problems they’re kidding themselves," said Jeffrey Bank, a New York City-based CEO of Alicart Restaurant Group which runs restaurants like Carmine’s and Virgil’s Real Barbecue.

And with funding from the Paycheck Protection Program running dry with the uncertainty surrounding a new stimulus package, restaurants continue to struggle to make ends meet and keep workers employed. Danny Meyer-owned Union Square Hospitality Group, which runs more than 20 New York City restaurants, in March laid off 80% of its employees. And across New York City alone hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers are left jobless.

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"This low-impact solution should have been implemented on July 8. They are late to the game," said Stratis Morfogen, director of operations at Brooklyn Chop House.

Cuomo on Wednesday said at a press conference the majority of the state of New York is serving customers indoors at restaurants at 50% capacity but explained there's been “a cluster of outbreaks from restaurants.”

“We knew compliance was lacking in New York City,” Cuomo said, explaining why New York City has been closed for indoor dining. “That was a reason for caution.”

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