Kitchen nightmare: 92% of NYC restaurants can’t pay rent as pandemic pains continue, survey finds

outdoor dining
Photo by Mark Hallum

Restaurant owners across New York City remain stuck in a kitchen nightmare that has nothing to do with the quality of their service.

A new survey from the New York City Hospitality Alliance puts the state of the eateries across the five boroughs into new dismal perspective, with 92% of respondents could not make rent in December as restrictions on indoor dining were clamped down.

Data collected by the Hospitality Alliance shows that colder weather, and the months-long exclusion of indoor dining, had an impact on the finances of businesses — with similar results being tracked at 80% in June, 83% in July, 87% in August and 88% in October. The data was pulled from a pool of 400 respondents.

No matter how the decline in business is attributed, the alliance is begging state and federal lawmakers to provide $25 billion in federal relief and more indoor capacity until the COVID-19 pandemic slows to the point where restaurants and bars can operate at regular capacity.

“We’re nearly a year into the public health and economic crisis that has decimated New York City’s restaurants, bars, and nightlife venues,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “While the reopening of highly regulated indoor dining is welcome news, we need to safely increase occupancy to 50% as soon as possible, and we urgently need robust and comprehensive financial relief from the federal government.”

For local eateries, keeping the lights during the pandemic is more straining by the day.

Monica Saxena, the owner of Aroqa in Chelsea, said with lack of indoor dining as well as fines imposed on her outdoor dining setup, it finding the money to keep her operations going has been a true hardship.

Saxena found that a truly open outdoor kiosk left her business open to theft of property such as heaters and lightbulbs. Then the open gets ransacked by homeless people using the space under the awning as a restroom with the proprietor finding vomit on occasion. In securing the setup with a door and windows, she has been fined by the state because it is too enclosed.

“It was impossible to be able to generate money to pay rent… The authorities have been coming in like there’s no tomorrow to slap us on our wrists. We may have followed everything, but they’ve found something to stop you from generating revenue,” Saxena said. “I built an outside [dining area] that is open from the top, open from the bottom, front windows which slide open.”

After receiving violations, Saxena said even her attempts to defend her business through legal recourse are a drain since retaining a lawyer has cost her $2,500.

“Nobody wants to listen and you’re trying to explain, ‘look, it’s open. There’s still air circulation,” Saxena added. “‘Why do you have windows instead of having nothing?’ ‘So then have the homeless come in and live there?'”

Over the course of the pandemic, the NYC Hospitality Alliance says that only 40% of commercial landlords reduced rent for struggling tenants while only 36% deferred rent. Only about 14 of business have been able to renegotiate what they pay on a monthly basis.

The full findings of the survey can be viewed here.

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