New York City hospitality industry takes another hit as COVID-19 Omicron variant continues to surge

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Patio outside Jing Fong restaurant on March 3rd.
Photo by Dean Moses

As the Omicron variant continues to rapidly spread throughout New York City, restaurants, bars and other service establishments are once again feeling the strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a report released Jan. 4 by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, NYC restaurants, retail and recreation (RRR) continue to suffer during this wave of COVID. Currently, New York City’s economic recovery and growth is trailing behind many other cities across the nation. NYC lost more jobs between the second quarters of 2019 and 2021’s calendar years than the five most populous counties in the nation. 

“While communities across the nation felt the impacts of the pandemic on their restaurant, retail and recreation sectors, New York City was hit especially hard,” said DiNapoli. “The governor and the mayor need to work together to help these businesses stay open.”

Following the time between the second quarters of 2019 and 2021, the restaurant sector in Manhattan employed 30 percent less workers than it did before. There is a need during this pandemic to ensure safety for both workers and customers, but in order to continue to stay open and generate income, there is also a need to balance complex risks in order to serve individuals.

Executive Dorector of the New York City Hospitality Alliance Andrew Rigie said with the continuing surge of the pandemic, many of these businesses are at the risk of permanent closure unless there is immediate federal aid.

“It has been absolutely devastating,” said Rigie. “We were hoping we were headed on a road to recovery and then Omicron hit. It’s clear we are going to need ongoing support from all levels of government which have yet provided the necessary support the industry has needed over the past nearly two years.”

“We need to continue our life,” added Rigie. “We can’t just shut down the economy, stop eating and drinking and socializing. But we need to be smart and we need to ensure that small businesses and workers get the support they need to make it to the other side of this pandemic.”

With New York City seeing an average of 39,132 cases per day being reported, many businesses in the hospitality industry are reporting short staffing, at-work COVID infections and employees quitting entirely. 

Rigie said these obstacles could be remedied if the federal government replenished the Restaurant Revitalization Fund – a $28.6 fund organized and distributed by the U.S Small Business Administration. 

“65 percent of New York restaurants were shut out [of the fund] when the money was quickly exhausted, so that is a number one priority,” said Rigie. 

Another source of income for small restaurants during the pandemic was the popular “alcohol to go” service, which allowed patrons to purchase alcohol without having to physically stay within the premises of the restaurant or bar. The service ended June 24, 2021 but helped bolster the business revenue for many restaurants and bars. 

Another crucial step New York City could take this winter to help support restaurants and bars is to re-allow propane heaters for outdoor dining. This practice ended last winter and has not been reinstated, although Rigie said that many patrons would prefer to dine outdoors with propane heaters but are unable to because of the cold weather and the lack of heating. 

“The situation is very very tough,” said Rigie. “The only thing that has been certain during this pandemic is the uncertain. It is going to be very difficult to fully stabilize the industry until we are on the other side of this pandemic.”