NYC restaurants get an OK to reopen dining rooms

Starting Sept. 30, places can use up to 25% of their interior seats. Patrons will be asked to blow the whistle if an establishment exceeds the cap.
Time out Market NYC
Photograph: Tom Hislop

New York City restaurants were given the go-ahead this afternoon to resume indoor dining on Sept. 30 at 25% of their interior seating capacities, a limitation New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo intends to enforce by asking customers to report violators via a special hotline.

The governor is also requiring that patrons have one member of their party leave detailed contact information so the restaurant can reach out if any customer or employee in the dining room at the time should test positive for coronavirus. The designated guest would then be contacted as the first step in having the whole party self-quarantined.

Every patron will be required to have his or her temperature taken as a condition of entry.

Restaurants will be required to use what the governor called “enhanced air filtration” to lessen the chances of airborne infection. Toward the same end, air recirculation will be limited. “We want air from the outside,” the government said.

Bar seating will not be permitted, and all places must close by midnight to discourage loitering.

The decision to resume indoor service comes a day after Cuomo said he was resisting the re-opening of dining rooms because of the state and city’s inability to police safety requirements. When restaurants opened elsewhere in the state, their operators and customers ignored the requirements that staff and guests wear masks and keep at least six feet apart. The governor formed a special task force of state policemen and liquor control authorities to inspect places outside of the Big Apple and close down places that refused to comply with the rules. But, he said yesterday, the force wasn’t big enough to expand their scope to New York City’s 15,000 restaurants.

The solution, Cuomo said today, is turning customers into citizen compliance agents. He explained that the state and city will run public service ads that invite customers to report places using more than 25% of their interior seating. To help the guests gauge compliance, restaurants will be required to post how many customers can be served under the capacity cap.

A phone number will be designated for reporting non-compliance. When a place is accused of disregarding safety protocols, a state agent will be dispatched to visit and verify the complaint.

“New Yorkers themselves will help with compliance,” Cuomo said. “New Yorkers will keep New Yorkers safe.”

The situation will be reassessed on Nov. 1 to see if the capacity limit could be raised to 50%. In the meantime, he warned, “If there is a spike in the infection rate, we can always hit the emergency pause button” and reclose dining rooms.

Restaurants in the city have warned Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio that many local restaurants would be forced to close for good if indoor dining was not allowed to resume. Many establishments have resorted to outdoor seating, but they point out that temperatures are already dropping as fall approaches.  

“The New York City restaurant industry has been financially devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and a safe return to indoor dining is critical to help save these vital small businesses and jobs," Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said in a statement. "We’re thankful to Gov. Cuomo for announcing a return to indoor dining with a blueprint for future expansion.”


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