With New York City restaurants hanging by a thread, local politicians are speaking out on their behalf, lawsuits are being filed, and pressure is mounting for both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo to allow indoor dining to resume in the city amidst the ongoing coronavirus crisis. New Jersey reopened dining rooms at 25% capacity last week, and other areas of New York State have allowed partial indoor dining since entering Phase 4. Today, Cuomo suggested that he is open to resuming indoor dining in the city, but only if the NYPD is more actively involved with enforcement of social distancing guidelines.
Cuomo has been reluctant to resume indoor dining here largely due to the density of the city and concerns about a lack of compliance with COVID-19 guidelines. He's repeatedly criticized city officials for not having the NYPD aid the Sheriff's Office in compliance checks, and at a press conference on Thursday, he reiterated that stance while suggesting that he was working on a deal with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to fix it. On Wednesday, Johnson said that he too believes it's time for indoor dining to return the NYC, with reduced capacity and other pandemic protocols in place.
"I agree with the speaker, I'd like to see [restaurants] open," Cuomo said, "but our rules and guidance on reopening is only as good as the compliance and the enforcement." He also said he has "beseeched NYC to do a better job on compliance" and that there were no more state resources to devote to this issue.
"This is crucial for restaurant owners, who have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the resulting drop in tourism. Summer is winding down, and they need to begin planning for the colder months," Cuomo said. “We know that the restaurant industry employs many New Yorkers, including many immigrants. Its health and well-being are imperative to our City. The rest of the State has been allowed to reopen their restaurants for indoor dining, and New Jersey is allowing indoor dining come Friday. Now is the time to allow it in New York City. Our restaurants and our City’s economy can’t wait."
Cuomo also suggested that Johnson put together a task force of "4,000 police who are going to be doing restaurant compliance" and that could solve the situation. He acknowledged that the economic damage during the pandemic has been "extraordinary" on restaurant owners, but "I don't want to be in a situation where we're opening thousands of restaurant and no capacity to monitor it."
For his part, Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to comment on Cuomo's statement—and the fact the governor is going to Johnson and not him to come up with an indoor dining plan—during his own simultaneous press conference on Thursday morning. The mayor promised more guidance on restaurants later this month, and noted that the city would address restaurant reopenings separately from bars and nightclubs, which have been "even more of a problem."
"The health leadership of this city that has guided us through this crisis is very concerned about indoor dining, the state has also been concerned about indoor dining, all over the world we've seen a problem," he said. "We will have more guidance, but the guidance will be based on what's in the interest of 8 million+ New Yorkers who have to beat this disease... It has to be health and safety first."
Other local politicians, including State Senator Andrew Gounardes, City Councilman Justin Brannan and State Senator Jessica Ramos, have all held press conferences this week also calling for more guidance and the return of indoor dining.
Earlier this week, a Queens restaurant, joined by hundreds of others, filed a $2 billion class action lawsuit against New York to try to force the return of indoor dining.
But even if indoor dining is allowed again, that doesn't guarantee that customers will come back, or restaurateurs will be able to stay above water with a drastically reduced clientele. Things are looking bleak for the industry: a new report today from the New York State Restaurant Association [NYSRA] found that two-thirds of New York restaurants said they are likely to close by the end of the year without a comprehensive relief package specifically for restaurants, with half of those restaurants saying they're likely to close by November.
NYSRA has been advocating strongly for the RESTAURANTS Act, a bipartisan federal bill that would create a $120 billion fund to aid small and locally-owned restaurants, and would specifically cover the difference between revenues from 2019 and estimated revenues through the rest of the year.