Although indoor dining in New York City will resume at 25 percent capacity on Sept. 30 and it was announced today that outdoor dining will extend into winter, restaurant industry workers and leaders are planning to rally outside of the governor’s office on Monday. They say neither measure is enough to keep their businesses afloat.
The rally is intended to push for the passage of the Restaurants Act, a bill introduced to Congress in June to provide $120 billion to independently owned restaurants across the country.
“The Paycheck Protection Program’s funds have been exhausted, and even with 25-percent capacity we are nowhere close to having the funds we need to keep restaurants open,” said one of the rally’s organizers, Mark Fox, founder of FOX Lifestyle Hospitality Group. His company includes Manhattan restaurants The Rag Trader & Bo Peep Cocktail, Highball Store, and White Oak Tavern, among others.
“We want the immediate approval of 50-percent indoor dining capacity, which has been approved for the rest of the state.” Indoor dining has been available in neighboring parts of the state, as well as New Jersey, since June and early September, respectively.
Fox said they also hope Mayor Bill de Blasio will allow the use of propane gas in Manhattan. Currently, kerosene and propane space heaters are illegal, according to the city’s official website, because “they pose a high risk of death and injury, and generate carbon monoxide.”
As the weather gets colder, restaurants will need heaters for outdoor dining. Using electric heaters would increase electric bills for an industry that is already in dire economic conditions. This is one of the many expenses restaurants have to incur to adjust to both outdoor and indoor dining regulations.
In order to operate indoors, restaurants must reach the state’s air filtration requirements, tables must be six feet apart or use plastic partitions, and one member of each party must leave their information for contact tracing. In addition, no bar service will be allowed.
“We had to buy more dividers since now we need them for both indoor and outdoor [dining],” said Kay Park, manager of Udon Lab, a restaurant in Koreatown. “We also had to invest in a better ventilator. Compared to March, 80 percentof our sales are down.” Udon Lab hasn’t been able to pay rent since June and was planning to close, but will wait after October to see how much longer outdoor dining will be permitted. The city’s current outdoor dining plan is set to expire Oct. 31. However, de Blasio said during WNYC’s the Brian Lehrer Show on Friday that the city’s outdoor dining program will extend through winter.
“[The extension] in itself will not be enough to sustain us,” said Fox.
Restaurants like Rainhas Churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse in Queens, have gone so far as to invest in a temperature check machine for all guests to use upon entering their restaurant, as shown in a video posted to Instagram.
Oneca Lazarus, vice president of Fox Lifestyle, thinks indoor dining is a great first step, but restaurants need more financial relief. “Heaters can cost $700, and igloos hundreds of dollars. This might seem totally fine for people but we don’t have any money, and we have to humanely pay our staff. Unless we receive money from the government, four out of five restaurants will be closed by November. Everyone’s livelihood is contingent on a comprehensive plan from local, state and federal governments,” she said.
A recent survey by New York State Restaurant Association indicated that 63.6 percent of New York restaurant owners believe they will close by the end of this year if a comprehensive relief package is not implemented.
Owners are also worried about clients’ adherence to indoor rules. Ivo Diaz, owner of Casa Ora, a Venezuelan restaurant in Brooklyn, is concerned about his staff working indoors. “Clients’ behavior is what worries me the most,” Diaz said. “Some arrive and act like nothing has happened, they don’t have the same caution we have. It’s going to be a struggle, and we hope that people are patient with the regulations, like taking their info for contact tracing.”
Monday’s rally will start at 11 a.m. at 330 East 38 Street and will go all the way to the governor’s office at 633 3rd Avenue.