According to the National Restaurant Association, some 100,000 of the one million restaurants and bars operating in the U.S. before the pandemic are expected to permanently close by the end of this year as a result of the economic upheaval caused by the coronavirus. But municipalities around the country, including in New York City, are taking steps to help restaurants survive this crisis, including relaxing regulations and facilitating permits for outdoor dining.
Extending Outdoor Dining
The New York City Council has made sidewalk and curbside street dining permanent, a program that was initiated in July to help restaurants financially. The Open Restaurants program has become a vital lifeline, allowing as many as 10,000 restaurants and bars in NYC to take over sidewalks, streets and other public spaces to increase revenue while maintaining social-distancing guidelines designed to mitigate the spread of the virus.
There are more than 70 miles of open streets in Manhattan, which turn blocks into car-free zones, nearly 15 miles of which allow outdoor dining. In fact, if you take a stroll down any of the main streets – from Amsterdam to Lexington and Third Avenue as well as many of the side streets where restaurants dot the local neighborhoods, you’ll find outdoor dining taking place everywhere. And New Yorkers are embracing the move in support of their favorite haunts.
The City Council has also allowed restaurants to use propane heaters on the sidewalks to continue to draw diners to outdoor tables as winter approaches. As temperatures drop, restaurants will also have the option of enclosing their outdoor areas, but if they do, they will have to adhere to indoor dining restrictions of 25% capacity.
The Open Restaurants program has saved an estimated 90,000 restaurant jobs citywide, according to city officials.
In addition, the City Council approved legislation, which the mayor intends to sign into law, allowing restaurants to add a 10% Covid-19 relief fee to diners’ bills. This is similar to what many restaurants did after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed to help with their employer-sponsored healthcare costs.
Indoor Dining: Assisting with ADA Compliance
New York City Council member and Manhattan borough president Ben Kallos recently introduced a bill that would establish a low-interest small grant and loan program to provide restaurants with up to $250,000 in funds to help establishments comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The funds could be used for infrastructure changes, as well as ventilation improvements and other public health measures to assist those who are at greater risk for developing serious complications from the coronavirus.
Indoor dining is permitted in NYC as of September 30 with a 25% occupancy limit. All restaurants choosing to reopen are subject to strict safety protocols, including temperature checks, contact information for tracing, face coverings when not seated and other safety protocols. Bar service is not permitted, and restaurants must close at midnight. The safety guidelines will be reassessed based on data by November 1. If the infection rate does not increase, restaurants may be permitted to go to 50% capacity. Reviving the restaurant industry is vital to the recovery of New York City, as in other cities across the country. The industry has called for additional measures such as federal aid for restaurants to cover their rents, payroll and operating costs, and city and state legislation to provide rent relief and other tenant protections to restaurants.