N.Y. orders restaurants to halve their capacities as a hedge against coronavirus

Places with more than 500 seats will be required to lower their seating to 250. Any place that fails to comply will be closed by the state.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurants in New York will be required as of 5 p.m. Friday to cut their seating capacity in half as a protection against coronavirus.

Places that can accommodate more than 500 guests will be required to further reduce their capacity to no more than 250 seats.

Places that fail to comply will be shut down, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The stipulation is part of a new batch of safety measures announced today by Cuomo. The capacity caps apply to all public venues, including Broadway theaters, sports arenas and music halls.

Schools, healthcare facilities and mass-transit venues are exempted.

The action drew a sharp response from the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA).

“While we understand prioritizing the health and wellness of employees and patrons, this new cap will dramatically impact all restaurants across the state,” said Melissa Fleischut, CEO of NYSRA. “Restaurants in Westchester and New York City have already reached a tipping point and are barely keeping their doors open.”

In a letter sent to Cuomo, Fleischut noted that association members had seen sales declines of more than 55%.

She asked the governor to consider relief measures for a restaurants, including  a cap on the commissions charged by third parties for deliveries. “Food delivery apps will be critical for many, and we must protect consumers who will rely on these services during this crisis,” Fleischut wrote.

She also asked for extending the payment schedules to 90 days, from the current 60 required by regulations, and to go beyond the federal government’s relief efforts by extending zero-interest loans to keep distressed establishments in operation. President Trump announced last night that the Small Business Administration would start extending loans to struggling small businesses such as restaurants. The agency said today that those loans would carry an interest rate of 3.5%.

Fleischut ended her communication with a plea that the governor inform the public “about how it is safe for patrons to continue to go about their normal business and to patronize their local community brick-and-mortar restaurants and bars.”

New York has been one of the states hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. According to Cuomo, 328 people in the state have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and 47 of the victims have required hospitalization.

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