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Cuomo Bans Indoor Dining Again In Hopes of Combatting Second Wave

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Indoor dining is once again restricted in New York City. The Governor’s Office announced today that restaurants may only offer outdoor seating to diners. The executive order will take effect on Monday. Understandably, the Governor’s Office and many public officials have defended the move as a necessary step in slowing the COVID-19 contraction rate in the city. Hospitalizations are indeed on the rise; though only 1.43 percent could be linked to restaurants and bars. [1] Despite this, studies have decisively shown that limiting indoor gatherings in any respect can slow the spread. [2] In that sense, the new ban is a step in the right direction — especially in light of the rapid production of a vaccine. 

In another very real sense, the ban is a blow to New York City’s already struggling restaurant industry. Restaurants have been reeling from not only the direct effects of COVID-19 but also the indirect effects of our collective attempts at combating it. Social distancing has entailed a loss of clientele for restaurants in a city famous for its dense, enclosed spaces. Work from home has harmed the lunch market. The vast majority of social practices which often lead individuals to dine out are simply not happening. As a result of all this, the industry is suffering. This new executive order compounds upon these harms, albeit in hopes of protecting the lives of New Yorkers and the greater population. 

A shutdown of indoor dining will likely come with severe consequences, if it is to go on for an extended period of time. Restaurant workers have urged officials and the public to recognize the human reality to these closures. Job security had almost entirely destabilized, and has not fully recovered. Nearly half of all restaurant employees in the city lost their jobs, and 1.5 million remain jobless. [3] 54 percent of New York restaurants expect to close in the absence of federal relief, according to a study by The New York State Restaurant Association. [4] That estimate is nearly 1.5x the national rate. Clearly, the industry has suffered, facing reduction after reduction and closure after closure, especially in New York City. 

Though, this unprecedented struggle has not gone unnoticed by public officials. Mayor De Blasio described the closures as “painful” but ultimately necessary in a tweet expressing support for Cuomo’s decision. “[We] can’t allow this virus to reassert itself in our city.” [4] However, the Governor’s Office’s “scattershot approach” to implementing social distancing measures alongside its early downplaying of the risks associated with indoor dining, have made some critical of the order’s rollout. [1] This notwithstanding, it has been clear for some time that Cuomo was moving for a complete ban, against industry representatives’ best wishes. 

Their pleas to hold out on the ban have especially focused on the ever-present and now dire need to meet rent payments in a timely fashion. A New York Hospitality Alliance report revealed that “88 percent of the city’s restaurants didn’t pay their full October rent and 59 percent of landlords refused to waive rent.” [4] Owners claim that if left unmitigated — or worse, allowed to increase — these numbers will spur significant and irreversible closures; and they may be right. In its current state, the commercial eviction moratorium will not prevent restaurants from going under if it is not paired with significant financial assistance, debt forgiveness, or another setup that will allow restaurants to reclaim lost revenue. 

At present, there is not much that owners can do other than adapt to circumstances. For some, this has entailed increased output in takeout, earlier operational hours, and steeper discounts. [5] However, these are short term solutions to a significant and long running problem, brought to the fore by COVID. Federal support is of the essence, and a vaccine is desperately needed. While Congress continues to negotiate federal relief measures, it is clear that the restaurant will be watching closely and waiting for desperately needed relief.

Sources:

[1] – Gold, Michael, “Indoor Dining Will Shut Down in New York City Again,” New York Times, 11 Dec. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/11/nyregion/indoor-dining-nyc.html, accessed 11 Dec. 2020.

[2] – Carey, Benedict, “Limiting Indoor Capacity Can Reduce Coronavirus Infections, Study Shows,” New York Times, 10 Nov. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/10/health/covid-indoor-venues-infections.html, accessed 11 Dec. 2020.

[3] Scheiber, Noam, “Pandemic Closures Devastate Restaurant Industry’s Middle Class,” New York Times, 9 Dec. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/09/business/pandemic-restaurant-middle-class.html, accessed 11 Dec. 2020.

[4] – Jones, Sasha, “Indoor dining will shut down again in NYC,” The Real Deal, 11 Dec. 2020, https://therealdeal.com/2020/12/11/indoor-dining-will-shut-down-again-in-nyc/?utm_source=internal&utm_medium=widget&utm_campaign=feature_posts, accessed 11 Dec. 2020.

[5] – Cuozzo, Steve, “NYC restaurants may not survive another indoor dining ban,” New York Post, 12 Nov. Dec, https://nypost.com/2020/11/12/nyc-restaurants-may-not-survive-another-indoor-dining-ban/, accessed 11 Dec. 2020.

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