East Coast restaurants dig out, assess sales damage

Restaurants in a huge swathe of the eastern United States awoke this morning to a flouring of snow several feet deep in places, and virtually all of it un-trampled by customers, employees, suppliers or service providers like garbage men.

The industry and the communities it served had largely shut down even before Mother Nature dropped as much as 20 inches of the business-killing white stuff on a stretch extending from Maine to south of Washington, D.C., and as far west as Ohio. Early on Monday, government officials directed the public to hunker down in their homes and weather the blizzard, warning that it could be one of the worst storms the region has ever seen.

The impact on New York City and other areas wasn’t as bad as expected, but the storm and sharp concerns about it, cost restaurants virtually a night and morning of business.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo forbade consumers to drive as of 11 p.m. Monday in 13 heavily populated counties, packing the roads hours earlier with consumers scampering home. A statewide ban on auto transportation went into effect at 9 p.m. in Connecticut.  Massachusetts and New Jersey also implemented restrictions.

New York and New Jersey suspended public transportation on Monday night, bringing New York City, the city that never sleeps, close to a nap. Officials warned that arteries into and out of the metropolis could be closed for days.

“It looks like we’re going to be closed tomorrow, and that’s not a good thing,” Christian Ponsolle, a Queens resident who owns a restaurant in Manhattan, told the local CBS affiliate. “But as long as no one has to go to the emergency room, this is great.”

New York City restaurateurs with the heart of a polar bear couldn’t even salvage business by schussing meals to customers’ apartments. Only emergency vehicles were permitted on city roads, and “a food delivery bicycle is not an emergency vehicle,” Mayor Bill De Blasio tartly observed during a press conference.

Restaurants had been warned to take such actions as stowing valet stands or anything else outside that could be blown around by winds forecast to hit 65 miles per hour.

The New York State Restaurant Association advised members via its website to check with their distributors about disruptions and resumptions of delivery schedules. It also encouraged restaurateurs to speak with employees dependent on public transportation about how they could get to work.

The New York City Hospitality Alliance, an association of restaurants, bars and hotels, sent its members a reminder before the storm that they would be expected by authorities to shovel the sidewalks and walkways outside their establishments by 11 a.m. It also advised anyone in a single-story establishment to hire someone to remove snow from the roof to lessen the weight and stress on the structure.

Even if a restaurant managed to open this morning, it was unclear how long its supplies might last. A Sysco spokesman said before the storm that the distribution giant was closely monitoring road conditions to see where it would be able to make deliveries. “We typically schedule additional advance deliveries and order additional supplies to hold for customers once the storm subsides,” said the spokesman.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were expected to lift or ease their travel bans at the time of this posting. 


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