Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Valentine’s Day Nudge Gives NYC Restaurants Cause for Optimism

People eat in the outdoor seating area of a restaurant in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. New York City indoor dining resumes Friday, two days earlier than planned, to take advantage of the full Valentine's Day weekend. Photographer: Amir Hamja/Bloomberg

New York City’s beleaguered restaurant industry finally has something to cheer about after its first weekend of indoor dining this year.

Some eateries said serving indoors at 25% capacity this Valentine’s Day weekend was worthwhile and, in the case of Chez Josephine in the Broadway theater district, even profitable. Others said they wouldn’t bother. Deborah Williamson, the co-owner of James in Brooklyn, said she didn’t feel safe serving guests indoors and restrictions would only allow for 10 seats in her dining room.

While data from OpenTable say the number of seated diners at restaurants on Saturday was down about 75% from year-earlier levels, it’s the smallest decline since the end of November — two weeks before Governor Andrew Cuomo shut indoor dining following a spike in Covid-19 cases. OpenTable tracks more than 54,000 restaurants on its reservation site and its data capture online and phone reservations as well as walk-ins.

Some 110,000 restaurants nationwide have closed permanently, or for the long-term since the pandemic took hold, with more than 4,000 closures in New York City alone, according to the New York State Restaurant Association. Many of the city’s restaurateurs are lobbying Washington for $25 billion in federal aid for restaurants and small businesses.

NYC Restaurants Rush Toward Reopening With Grim 25% Math in Mind

At Chez Josephine, manager Alfredo Villegas said all the tables at his restaurant were taken on Saturday.

“It’s been going well,” he said in a phone interview Sunday, adding that the restaurant now operates with 30 tables under the capacity rule. “People have been very happy about it.”

The manager of Pipin’s Pub, a bar in Bay Bridge, Brooklyn, said indoor dining revenue even surpassed takeout and delivery this weekend. “A lot of the regulars have been back,” Brid Kerr-Gnoza said.

Band-Aid Solution

Burger Village, which opened two-and-a-half months ago in Astoria, New York, also filled up its seven indoor tables “a couple of times” over the weekend, including Saturday night. Still, takeout and delivery made up most of the restaurant’s sales.

“We will be better off with 25% dining,” said owner-operator Jack Licata. “But 25% (capacity) is just a band-aid. If it’s for an extended period going forward, we won’t survive.”

Not all restaurants rushed to open their doors following Cuomo’s announcement two weeks ago that some indoor dining could resume. Some owners said they face staffing shortages and worry they’d be operating at a loss if they hired back more people.

Longer operating hours might help somewhat. Cuomo on Friday announced an extension to closing times at bars and restaurants from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., beginning Sunday.


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