New York City restaurants can seat indoors at 50% capacity starting March 19: Cuomo

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Ilili Restaurant at 236 Fifth Avenue on Sept. 22, 2020. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

In a deal with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, New York City restauranteurs will be able to open indoor dining at 50% capacity, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.

Starting March 19, the decision is in keeping with agreement across multiple states that some policies would be coordinated, a standard set early in the pandemic, and business owners are ready to start serving patrons in the spaces they pay for monthly.

“In New York State, our decisions are based on science and data and we are encouraged by the continued decline in infection and hospitalization rates,” Cuomo said. “In partnership with the State of New Jersey, we are expanding our indoor dining openings in New York City to 50 percent. We will continue to follow the science and react accordingly. If we keep the infections down and vaccinations up, we will continue to stay ahead in the footrace against this invisible enemy and reach the light at the end of the tunnel together.”

New York City restaurants were snubbed in the last round of restriction changes in which Cuomo allowed eateries across the state to open at 74% capacity, but city dwellers had to stick it out in the cold with a cap of 35% remaining in place.

According to the governor’s office, since indoor dining was allowed at 25% capacity on February 12, up to two incubation periods had passed without a significant enough rise in infection rates to convince his administration that further easing of restrictions could proceed. Indoor dining was banned in December in anticipation of a holiday surge, something proprietor protested to stating that there was not enough evidence to suggest that indoor dining was significantly problematic to the spread of COVID-19.

“While city restaurants may not increase occupancy to 75% like restaurants are safely doing throughout the rest of the state, it is still welcome news to the battered restaurant industry,” Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said. “Cautiously and safely increasing indoor dining capacity at New York City restaurants to 50%, with an eye toward expanding in the future, more vaccinations, and dedicated restaurant relief on its way from the federal government gives our industry some optimism among all the doom and gloom of this past year.”

In August, concerns within the industry turned a jealous eye to the Garden State as Murphy opened up indoor dining at 25%, despite only one New Yorker dying the day prior to New Jersey’s announcement.

“In New Jersey, we will continue to move deliberately, responsibly and incrementally, guided by public health data,” Murphy said in a statement alongside Cuomo on Wednesday. “We feel confident in this step given the improving metrics we have seen over the last several weeks in both New Jersey and New York City, as well as the continued ramp up of our vaccination program.”

It is not the only progress restaurants saw on Wednesday as the state Senate voted in favor of a bill that will help keep businesses in their spaces through eviction proceedings that allow for hardship declarations for commercial real property.