It’s no secret that many industries have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Although 72% of business owners report they could likely continue their operations if they retained their data, even after losing all other assets, sectors that depend on an in-person experience have certainly struggled to survive over the last six months. Arguably, the restaurant industry has endured some of the biggest blows: back in June, the National Restaurant Association reported that the industry had already lost $120 billion — and by year’s end, that total could exceed $240 billion.
Those figures have spelled trouble for many beloved eateries across the country and, notably, throughout the Big Apple. Although compensation associated with employee slip-and-fall accidents amounts to $70 billion each year, that pales in comparison to how much restaurants have lost this year. For some, the financial stress has forced them to permanently close their doors without a real chance to bid farewell to their customers.
Others, though, are still trying to keep their heads above water. And while NYC received some good news that indoor dining was finally permitted to take place — with limitations, of course — the state as a whole is in danger of losing a huge portion of eateries if no additional government funding is granted.
Residents in many areas upstate have been enjoying reopened restaurants and bars for quite some time. But New York City, which was once a huge hotspot for COVID-19, has been much slower to make a recovery. Finally, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the city’s restaurants will be permitted to reopen for indoor service starting on September 30, provided they operate at 25% capacity. The approval came more than two months after Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio put the kibosh on a plan that would have permitted indoor dining; that plan was halted due to worries about a coronavirus resurgence.
However, even now, experts and workers alike have extreme worries about indoor dining being permitted again. A recent study from the CDC found that people infected with COVID-19 were twice as likely to have been to a restaurant and three times more likely to have gone to bars in the two-week period prior than those who tested negative for the virus. Interestingly, the study showed no significant differences between positive and negative tests pertaining to shopping habits, working at the office, participating in a small gathering at home, going to the gym or salon, using public transit, or even attending religious services. It’s likely that one of the main factors here is that masks cannot be worn when eating or drinking but can be worn in all other scenarios.
Although the study did not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining, scientists do stress that the risk of transmission tends to be lower in open-air environments. Poor ventilation indoors can make the risk of contracting the virus even worse, as is proven by a study performed by the Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China. Researchers there found that one person infected nine others while dining inside a restaurant at lunchtime due to “strong airflow from the air conditioner.” As the temperatures drop and outdoor dining becomes no longer viable, many are worried about how New York City’s heating systems could prove disastrous.
While some feel that the governor has done a good job of outlining safety guidelines for indoor dining, some in the industry feel that these rules are in place for the sake of customers rather than workers. Since customers aren’t required to wear masks at tables, that puts restaurant workers at risk. And although some may feel comforted by temperature checks at the door, there’s a growing subset of people who feel this tactic is nothing more than “hygiene theater.” Temperature checks do nothing when a person is pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic other than provide a very false sense of security. And since many restaurants already dismissed capacity rules earlier in the pandemic, many workers don’t have much faith that their employers will do what’s right.
But for many, there’s no other alternative than to mask up and hope for the best. And that’s for the restaurants that will even be reopening at all. As many 70% of small businesses are in debt as it is — and restaurants aren’t typically known for making money. But now, data from the New York State Restaurant Association has revealed that NYC eateries aren’t the only ones that have been struggling. Nearly 64% of restaurant owners across the Empire State reported that they are likely or somewhat likely to close by the end of 2020 unless they receive financial relief. Of that 64% of restaurant owners, over half say they actually expect to shut down before November 2019. Only 36% say they’re likely to stay open.
As New York State Restaurant Association President Melissa Fleishut explained in a statement, “It is painfully clear that without financial assistance, the restaurant industry in New York State could collapse. These recent survey results illustrate just how dire the financial situation has become for most restaurants, and it shows how critical it is that elected officials understand the urgency of the situation.”
Fleishut went on to add: “Governor Cuomo’s leadership during these difficult times on issues, such as alcohol-to-go and outdoor dining, has provided a lifeline for our members in the past few months. But it’s not enough. We are now asking the governor, the state Legislature, and those at the federal level to simply help us survive. Without further assistance, the restaurant industry as we know it could be gone in a New York minute.”
This is sobering news for anyone who owns, works at, or loves eating at restaurants throughout the state. While it might not be safe to dine indoors, one of the best things you can do is to continue to get takeout from your favorite eateries, purchase gift cards, or provide financial support in other ways. Even writing a review or sharing your favorite restaurant on social media can help. Other than that, you may have to be prepared to fight for your community’s beloved eateries — or to eat one last meal from them if they simply can’t make it through the year.