Update, 3/17/20, 4 p.m.: Danny Meyer, one of the first restauranteurs to shut down his properties ahead of the official mandate, has announced a relief program for his employees. He is also contributing his entire compensation to the fund.
This week, New York City started to shut down, as the spread of COVID-19 was declared an official pandemic by the World Health Organization, and Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency. Governor Andrew Cuomo did the same, while also banning gatherings over 500 people (a number that will likely get smaller). Broadway shut down, sports were canceled, and even late night talk shows are on hiatus as everyone retreats into their homes. New Yorkers have historically gotten through a crisis by coming together, but the coronavirus pandemic is leading to self-isolation, and now the city's restaurants are closing.
On Friday, the Union Square Hospitality Group announced they would temporarily close all of their restaurants and bars for service to prioritize the health and safety of the community.
Danny Meyer provided this statement:
“We are living in uncharted territory with no preexisting roadmap or compass except for how we do business: nothing matters more than the safety and health of our team members, guests, and the communities in which we do business. With all that we now know about Federal, State, and City-wide mandates, as well as the science that has provided evidence urging everyone to reduce non-essential social contact, we have made the difficult, but for us, obvious decision to temporarily close our restaurants in New York City. For those of us who find our purpose and passion in bringing people together in a spirit of healing, it is nearly unfathomable to confront the reality that the very thing at which we thrive could in these times be a threat to the health and safety of our community. This decision brings with it very real sacrifices for our team, but I feel it is necessary that USHG do our part to prevent the spread of this pandemic. By fully facing this storm today, we all hope to return to serving our community sooner than later.”
Meyer has also been updating on the Union Square Hospitality Group website. His employees will be given paid time off for the hours they are scheduled through the end of the pay-week, then be allowed to use any PTO they have available. Additionally, USHG will cover the employee premium contribution for medical insurance for those who are currently enrolled, for a month, and provide free mental health support. Any costs associated with the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19 will be covered, as well, even for those who don’t have health insurance.
Meyer is in a unique position to offer this, but many smaller restaurant owners will not be able to, and as of last night, NYC restaurant attendance is believed to be down around 52%, a little higher than the state number:
The NY Times reports that Le Bernardin and Daniel have also closed for now, noting that many other "restaurateurs were in crisis-planning mode on Thursday." The Times also reported that Gotham Bar & Grill "announced that it would close permanently after dinner on Saturday, after 36 years in business... The restaurant notified friends in an email that gave no reason, but said, 'We now look forward to doing what we can to assist our industry and help New York City recover.'"
Blue Ribbon owners announced they too will be closing all of their locations. And more will follow.
Currently, any bars and restaurants that remain open across the five boroughs will only be allowed to serve half as many people as usually fit in their establishments. “How are we going to be supported?,” asked Steven Hubble, head chef at Farm on Adderley in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. “It’s easy for someone just to go ‘you know what, we’re going to cut all your businesses in half.’ Well, okay, great, what’s your contingency plan to pay my staff’s rent?”
In an attempt to lessen the economic blow, the city’s Small Business Services agency is offering zero-interest loans to businesses that lose at least 25 percent of their revenue from coronavirus and the efforts to contain the disease. But Hubble says a loan won’t do much for his restaurant, and would rather the city do more to directly cover the lost revenue.
In a letter sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York State Restaurant Association's Melissa Fleischut said association members had already seen sales decline by more than 55% this week, and asked for relief measures like payment extensions and zero-interest loans. “We cannot overstate how many restaurants are facing a dire future right now,” she declared.
Fleischut also asked for "a cap on the commissions charged by third parties for deliveries," as these apps will become more critical for some businesses.
Dirt Candy on the Lower East Side sent out a letter to customers, and posted on social media that they are still open for now, and "looking into a lot of options, including delivery."
LoLo's Seafood Shack, which has locations in Harlem and Midtown, says they'll offer limited seating and take-out, plus delivery. While they'll continue to monitor what health officials say, they described how they're thoroughly cleaning and paying extra attention all high-touch surfaces, and asking customers who are sick not to come in "until you're feeling better."
However, those cleaning tactics alone do not help, many are urging even healthy people to stop dining out, because to do so will contribute to the spread and it's imperative that we flatten the curve. Katie Heany notes in The Cut that we simply need to stop socializing. "We think: Well, I don’t have symptoms. But we know we can carry the coronavirus without symptoms. We can pass it without symptoms. To pretend any one of us is exempt is delusional at best and selfish at worst. The more of us that do the right thing, the fewer people will get sick and die."
Andy Slavitt, former Medicare, Medicaid & ACA head for Obama, also says we are at the point where we need to stop going out to bars and restaurants:
What are mayors, governors & their staffs reporting? That people are jamming the bars.— Andy Slavitt (@ASlavitt) March 14, 2020
I get it. Home from work. Cooped up. Crisis mentality. We need to let steam off. Shared experience.
But stop that. All the bars & restaurants are closed now across Europe. 5/
Update, 1 p.m.: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Brad Lander have also instructed New Yorkers to stop going out to restaurants and bars:
Additional reporting by Danny Lewis.