New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted the coronavirus moratorium on indoor dining Friday, allowing restaurants citywide to resume service indoors at 25 percent capacity, beginning Feb. 14.
The plan to bring back indoor dining is a fulfillment of a pledge he made three days ago, when he said he will deliver a path forward for eateries to reopen. Cuomo also said that beginning March 15, larger gatherings of up to 150 people–including wedding receptions–will be permitted as long as guests are tested ahead of time.
He pointed to a demonstration of the concept in Buffalo earlier this month where 7,000 people were tested before attending the Buffalo Bills playoff game. How it will work in the city exactly has not yet been determined, but the governor said a related app is in development which would presumably provide proof that one has tested negative.
“Restaurants want a period of time, so they can notify workers, get up to speed for indoor dining and order supplies,’’ Cuomo said during a press conference held in New York on Friday. “Going forward, we are very excited about the possibility of reopening venues with testing.”
According to the governor, strict pre-testing and tracing rules will allow more restaurants to reopen without spreading the virus. Since the vaccination may still make many, many months in New York, the governor said, testing will become increasingly important and will provide a path to allow restaurants to expand their dining capacity indoors and to hold larger public gatherings. .
With testing, wedding receptions will be limited up to 150 guests and venues will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity. But guests will be required to be tested and approved by the health department. The new rules will be effective March 15.
During the announcement, the governor played up the romance possible in the new plans.
“New York says I do. If you want to propose on Valentine’s Day, you could make reservations now or plan dinner and then propose on Valentine’s Day,” said Gov. Cuomo, addng, then, you can “have a wedding ceremony with up to 150 and people will come if you tell them it will be safe because there is testing.’’
During the pandemic, many New York City’s restaurants have depended on outdoor seating and takeout orders to keep business going. But winter’s frigid temperatures are likely to keep more customers away, so the governor’s announcement Friday, not surprisingly, was welcomed by many restaurant workers, albeit with caveats.
Many restaurant owners hailed the news of the lifting the indoor dining ban, while others expressed concern that allowing them to open with only 25 percent capacity is too little to have an impact on business.
“Allowing only 25 percent occupancy doesn’t give us the value for the money,” said Jeff Choi, 45, the owner and manager of Bulbap Grill, a popular Korean restaurant in Bushwick. “We invest a lot in hiring servers, heating indoors dinning places, and buying sanitizers. Twenty five percent is a very limited number.”
Despite the new rules allowing dining indoors, Choi says he has decided to stick to outdoor tables on Valentine’s Day to limit his costs.
Jessica Meyers, 28, a server at Sea Wolf seafood restaurant, welcomed the governor’s news, but said she too wishes he’d increase occupancy to at least 50 percent, since Feb. 14 will be a special day for lovers.
“Twenty five percent on Valentine’s Day is such a tease,” Meyers said. “This is New York. So many people are in love.’’
The general manager of Artichoke Pizza restaurant in Bushwick, however, said he is happy with the governor’s decision to allow indoor dining and said the popular pizzeria is going to make the best of the opportunity.
“February 14 is going to be a special day here at Artichoke. We will change our menu and spice up our pizzas to suit the needs of those who will be celebrating Valentine’s Day with us, “said Jimmy Cronin, the restaurant’s general manager. “It will be special.”