Written by Gaby Baldovino
This summer, the streets of New York City felt alive once again. Beautiful outdoor dining patios, open-air rooftops, and even insulated dining bubbles were among the most popular solutions to the crisis that many NYC restaurants faced. Outdoor dining felt like a safe, creative solution to the shortage of business that these restaurants experienced during the months of lockdown. Mayor Bill de Blasio even called to make outdoor dining permanent.
Starting September 30th, restaurants were able to welcome indoor diners at 25% capacity as COVID cases continued to decline. Unfortunately, just as the city began to feel alive again, cases began to spike for a second time. With the new 10 PM curfew in place, it seems likely that indoor dining may be forced to shut down.
So, what does this mean for NYC restaurants? Many of them weren’t even able to pay full rent during the summer, when outdoor dining was at its peak. 34% of them weren’t able to pay any rent at all. With these new restrictions, it is extremely likely that this trend will remain the same, if not worsen. To make matters worse, the colder weather also poses a daunting challenge to restaurants. As temperatures continue to drop, New Yorkers are more likely to forgo outdoor dining for the comfort of a home-cooked meal or Postmates.
With cases continuing to rise, indoor dining also becomes much more risky. As such, NYC restaurants are trying to make outdoor dining as safe and as comfortable as possible for customers. Café du Soleil, a restaurant on the Upper West Side, has invested in plastic bubble dining pods to keep customers warm as well as socially-distanced from others. Across Washington Square Park, Carbone on Thompson Street has begun installing heat lamps to keep guests warm. Less glamorously, restaurants like Tomoe Sushi draped tarp and other plastic coverings in an effort to keep the heat in.
However, there are a variety of safety concerns with enclosing outdoor dining spaces during the winter. Outdoor dining bubbles, like those used at Café du Soleil, may actually increase your risk of contracting COVID-19. Dr. Robert Glatter, a physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, told Fox News, “The risk posed by lingering aerosols after diners leave a table within an outdoor enclosure constitutes at least some of the potential risk for transmission.”
Restaurant owners and New York policymakers alike continue to look for ways to help the restaurant industry during these challenging times, as takeout and pickup orders will not be enough to keep restaurants afloat during the winter. One possible solution that would minimize the spread of COVID-19 while also keeping restaurants in business could be to completely shut down indoor dining but pay restaurants a stimulus. On Twitter, State Senator Brad Hoylman called for New York state to “pay [restaurants, bars, and gyms] until COVID rates are under control.”
The truth is that no one wants to see NYC restaurants suffer. They are a vital part to the culture of the city and among some of the most beloved places in every neighborhood. However, in order to save the restaurant industry in the long run, it may be necessary for the city to go through one more shutdown in order to minimize the impact of the second wave and keep New Yorkers safe. One day, the city will be ready to enjoy both indoor and outdoor dining safely, without fear of the pandemic.