Restauranteurs Demand City Plan For Indoor Dining as Autumn Approaches

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With no concrete indoor dining plans, restaurant owners are wondering how much longer they are going to be able to continue putting food on their customers’ plates.

Facing devastating economic setbacks, the NYC Hospitality Alliance and restaurant owners from all five boroughs called on Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to develop an immediate plan for the return of indoor dining in New York City.

“Where is the plan?” said Executive Director of the  NYC Hospitality Alliance Andrew Rigie.

Indoor dining with a 50% capacity limit resumed when NYC entered Phase 3 of reopening, but as the plans come for schools, museums, gyms, and even bowling alleys, restaurants are feeling a little more than left out. 

Calling out the irony, members of the NYC Hospitality Alliance pointed out that these rules pertain exclusively to restaurants unfortunate enough to find themselves within NYC’s borders. One needs only to travel a couple of miles out of the NYC district to Nassau or Westchester Counties to be seated indoors. 

The Bogota Latin Bistro on 5th Avenue in Park Slope. Photo from the restaurant’s website.

George Constantinou, owner of three restaurants – Bogota Latin Bistro, Miti Miti and Medusa in Brooklyn – all along Park Slope’s restaurant row of 5th Avenue, remarked that location shouldn’t make a difference on whether owners can appropriately social-distance at their restaurants. 

“If you can do it in Westchester, then we can most certainly do it safely in Brooklyn as well,” Constantinou commented. 

In an interview last night with NY1’s Errol Louis, Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed this concern, saying, “We are nothing like the surrounding communities in terms of the level of density we have here.”

According to the mayor, the information that the New York City Health leadership keeps bringing back to him from overseas studies warrants particular caution, especially since “indoor restaurants, bars, nightclubs are one of the single biggest factors in the resurgence.”

Despite all their feuding, Governor Cuomo sided with the de Blasio in this one yesterday when he suspended the liquor licenses of 14 bars and restaurants who had violated pandemic related orders, a majority of which are in Brooklyn. It comes on the heels of Cuomo’s COVID cops busting three restaurants in Cypress Hills last week.

The state’s multi-agency task force — led by the State Police and State Liquor Authority — conducted over 3,000 compliance checks and documented violations at 34 establishments. 

“Now is not the time to lose sight of our goal, and if compliance slips, all of the progress we’ve made over the last five months could be undermined,” Cuomo commented. 

But despite the majority of NYC restaurants complying with the current guidelines, a large number of them couldn’t pay full commercial rent this past month and nearly 60 percent of hospitality industry workers are jobless, according to the latest NYS unemployment figures. 

“Restaurants are vital to the city’s cultural and economic fabric, but without indoor dining, an overwhelming majority are struggling to survive and 200,000 industry workers are jobless,” Rigie stated. 

But even though the mayor acknowledged this issue today in a press briefing- citing outdoor dining and takeout bringing back some jobs and business, no change in the current proposals was announced. 

“We know from the experience everywhere around the world and also from the United States that indoor dining is a very high-risk activity,” said Senior Advisor for Public Health Dr. Jay Varma. 

Varma mentioned a number of factors playing into the inconclusiveness- inability to wear masks while eating, proximity to others, and time spent in the restaurant. 

But as health professionals and politicians err on the side of caution, restaurant businesses across NYC are continuing to demand some sort of plan for full indoor dining before the fall weather restricts outdoor dining, and as they grow increasingly concerned that they may have to turn in the keys to their businesses. 

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