Indoor dining will be allowed to resume in New York City Sept. 30, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this afternoon, six months after he shuttered all of the city’s dining and drinking establishments because of COVID-19 and thousands lost their jobs.
Restaurants in the five boroughs will be allowed to open at 25 percent capacity as opposed to 50 percent capacity in the rest of the state.
The governor released a detailed set of rules that eateries will have to follow, including required temperature checks at the door, installation of “enhanced filters” in air filtration systems, and mask-wearing at all times except when seated at a table. Tables must be spaced 6 feet apart, and restaurants must close at midnight. At least one member of a dining party must leave contact information with the restaurant in case contact tracing is necessary for a COVID-19 case. Patrons can’t sit at the bar; only table service will be allowed.
Cuomo added that the city must allow indoor dining at 50 percent capacity by Nov.1 as long as citywide infection rates remain below 2 percent.
Meanwhile, to enforce the new rules, the state will expand the State Liquor Authority enforcement task force, and the city will provide 400 code enforcement inspectors to work with the state. Inspectors will have to survey 10,000 establishments throughout the city in order to ensure enforcement.
Also, the state will run public service announcements asking New Yorkers to call or text a state hotline about restaurant compliance violations if they see them. Cuomo called the program “New Yorkers Protecting New Yorkers.” In the event of a possible violation, the SLA task force will dispatch an inspector to investigate. Each establishment will have to post their capacity limit, along with the state enforcement phone numbers.
“I believe in New Yorkers’ ability to do the right thing,” Cuomo said. “That is not blind faith. That is a result of the experience we had going through COVID.”
The bar and restaurant industry in the city has struggled since the coronavirus swept through beginning in March. Cuomo allowed outdoor dining starting June 22, but it hasn’t done much to stanch the massive profit losses that restaurants have suffered during the shutdown. More than a third of restaurants weren’t able to pay any rent in July, and 83 percent weren’t able to pay their entire rent that month. A group of restaurant owners also filed a $2 billion class action lawsuit last month in an effort to force the city and state to reopen indoor dining, as Commercial Observer reported at the time.
A local restaurant trade group praised Cuomo’s decision to allow indoor dining, although the change will likely mean little for restaurants operating in small spaces.
“The New York City restaurant industry has been financially devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and a safe return to indoor dining is critical to help save these vital small businesses and jobs,” Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said in a statement. “We’re thankful to Gov. Cuomo for announcing a return to indoor dining with a blueprint for future expansion. Restaurants are essential to New York’s economic and social fabric, and indoor dining is a key component to the industry’s recovery.”