What can be done to help New York’s restaurant industry survive COVID-19?

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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that state restaurants could resume indoor dining starting this Friday, with a 25% capacity rule along with all other COVID safety guidelines -19 already established. But so far Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have made it clear that indoor dining won’t resume in New York anytime soon, largely due to the city’s density and concerns about a widespread lack of adherence to current social distancing guidelines.The city’s restaurant industry is on the verge of collapse without some sort of government intervention. According to a recent New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA) survey, 90% of New York restaurateurs say their establishment will be very or unlikely to be profitable in the next six months. All of this has made restaurant and bar owners wonder: if the city is strongly opposed to bringing meals back indoors, can be made to help?

At the moment, the industry’s best hope lies in the RESTAURANTS Act, a bipartisan federal bill introduced this summer that would create a $ 120 billion fund to help small local restaurants and specifically cover the difference between 2019 income and estimated income for the rest of the year. It is supported by many New York restaurant groups, including NYSRA, which, in partnership with the National Restaurant Association, included the bill as part of their “Blueprint for Restaurant Revival” proposal, which lists several methods. short-term funding for restaurants.

NYSRA CEO Melissa Autilio Fleischut told Gothamist that they specifically supported the Senate version of the bill, “because the language includes more small businesses than the home version.” For example, a single-unit franchisee with a restaurant could not use funding under the House version of the bill, but could use funding under the Senate version. The wording indicates that restaurants and bars that are not part of a chain of 20 or more locations, and that are not publicly traded, would be eligible for assistance.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said his group also supported the bill and stressed the need for immediate action in the face of the crisis plaguing the city’s restaurant industry.

“If the governor and mayor don’t allow restaurants to open in New York City, what are they doing to lower the rent for these small businesses? ” He asked. “These restaurants aren’t closed because they had bad burgers or poor inspection, they have been mandated by governments to be closed. Now, we need this same government to support these restaurants while they keep them closed if they ever want to reopen in the RESTAURANTS law is to be enacted. ”

He also highlighted other ways local leaders could act to help restaurants in the meantime, including paying business interruption insurance claims and eliminating the tax on commercial rents for businesses. restaurants and nightlife establishments.

The precarious financial situation of the city due to the pandemic makes any substantial financial assistance from the town hall unlikely.

“We know that small businesses and restaurants are hurting, and we support any effort to give them the financial help they deserve,” said City Hall spokesman Mitch Schwartz. “We’re proud of our nationally-leading Open Restaurants program, but we know businesses can’t rely on this alone. “(The Open Restaurants program ends at the end of October.)” Dining out continues to be a high-risk activity, “he added,” and the federal government should step in to save jobs and keep Americans healthy.

De Blasio reiterated the city’s position during its Monday morning press conference: “Is there a way to do something safe with meals inside? So far we haven’t had that moment, honestly, ”he said. “I am waiting and praying for a vaccine in the spring that will get us all back to normal. But I will absolutely tell you that we are going to keep looking for that situation where we can bring down the virus enough that we have more capacity to tackle the restoration inside. We’ll have more to say about it in the next few days, but it would take a huge step forward to get to this, it’s the truth. ”

In a call with reporters Monday, Cuomo acknowledged that with the restart of dining inside New Jersey, there would be more pressure for the state to bring him back to the city. He said New York restaurants were now at a “competitive disadvantage” because diners could walk across the bridge or tunnel and eat in New Jersey.

“I am aware that restaurants in New York are very unhappy with not having meals inside, I understand the economic consequences, their argument will now be exacerbated [because of NJ] and this is something that we are monitoring and considering, “he said.” I want as much economic activity as quickly as possible, we also want to make sure that the rate of transmission stays under control. Such is the tension. “



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Scott Lynch / Gothamist


Two weeks ago, the NYC Hospitality Alliance was joined by several restaurateurs in demanding that de Blasio and Cuomo draw up a plan for the return of indoor dining to New York – or at the very least, a clear timeline on the reopening. dining rooms, and an explanation of why indoor dining was allowed elsewhere in the state, but not in the city. Some have asked the city to experiment with the option of dining indoors on Staten Island to see if there is a more immediate route as well.

Cuomo said today that there isn’t a specific metric unique to the city they’re looking at, but the reason it’s been allowed in the rest of the state and not here has to do with a few factors, including the density and higher concentration of people in New York and the fact that the city does not separate bars and restaurant licenses, the implication being that it would be more reasonable to reopen restaurants in the city. Indoor limited capacity as bars at full capacity.

People gather at tables outside a bar


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Bars also work with outdoor space

Scott Lynch / Gothamist

Cuomo also pointed to a lack of compliance by the city’s restaurants operating alfresco dining, which has led to a crackdown over the past month; an analysis from Gothamist found that nearly 50% of restaurant suspensions during the pandemic were due to indoor dining. Cuomo also berated city officials for failing to help the NYPD sheriff’s office verify compliance.

Already, more than 100 New York City restaurants are planning a class action lawsuit demanding that the city and state allow meals to be returned indoors. And Rigie of the NYC Hospitality Alliance says the lawsuit is still on the table for his group as well.

“Each passing day creates more uncertainty, fear and anger among small business owners, many of whom are depleting their personal savings while waiting for a plan to reopen,” he said. “If they know there is no way to reopen before the New Year, they can throw away the keys, but without guidance, they can continue to deplete their personal savings and go bankrupt personally. “

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