‘Where’s the check?’ Restauranteurs blast Cuomo’s New York City indoor dining ban

FILE PHOTO: The spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manhattan, New York City
A person serves customers at Oiji, a restaurant in the East Village as new restrictions were announced on bars and restaurants for 10 PM closure, to help fight the spread of the coronavirus disease, on Nov. 13, 2020.
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

Restaurant owners are furious about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision Friday to shutdown indoor dining for at least two weeks beginning Monday, arguing that the restrictions will only hurt businesses that are already on the brink.

“Governor Cuomo has destroyed our industry. I have to call my staff and break the news that they don’t have a job come Monday,” said Stratis Morfogen, the director of operations at Brooklyn Chop House in the Financial District and the owner of the soon-to-be-open Brooklyn Dumpling Shop in the East Village. “I’m talking to busboys, dishwashers, wait staff and more to tell them the devastating news that they can’t feed their families.” 

All restaurants in New York City must shut down indoor dining starting on Monday but can continue offering outdoor dining and takeout, Cuomo announced at a Dec. 11 press conference

The change comes amid an increase in COVID-19 cases and surging hospitalization rates. Nearly 20,600 people have tested positive for the virus over the last week — an increase over the 17,300 weekly cases averaged over the last four weeks — and the number of daily hospitalizations has jumped from 71 on Nov. 11 to 180 one month later, according to city data

Cuomo acknowledged that only 1.43 percent of COVID-19 patients catch the virus from indoor dining — while nearly 74 percent of cases come from private gatherings — but said that the city’s density is a cause for concern.

Restauranteurs, however, argued that the restrictions apply unfairly to New York City, which is seeing lower COVID-19 rates than some other regions of the state.

“The infection rate in Westchester is three times the infection rate in Manhattan,” said James Mallios, who owns the manhattan restaurant Amali and Rockaways watering hole Bar Marseille. “I guess in the future tourists will come here to visit our collection of Equinoxes.”    

Though many restaurant owners understood the need to take precautions, they also claimed that the state’s uneven and ever-changing guidelines make it hard for them to plan ahead.

To counter the negative repercussions of the indoor dining ban, many restaurant leaders argued that the state should at least provide some sort of relief for small businesses.

“Where’s the check? What are they going to do to support these small businesses?” Morfogen said. I have to reduce my staff by 70 percent now. Our governor has literally left us out in the cold.”

The least the governor could do is ease some of the existing restrictions, one business leader argued.

“With Monday’s closure of indoor dining in NYC the state should immediately allow outdoor dining and ‘alcohol to go’ to continue past 10PM again,” tweeted Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. “Outdoor dining used to be permitted until 11pm and alcohol to go even later.”

However, some restaurant owners said they understood the new regulation and thanked the governor for prioritizing the safety of New Yorkers over businesses.

“Although it is certainly affecting our business really badly, we respect the measured decision of the state,” said Mathias Van Leyden, the owner of Loulou Restaurant & Speakeasy in Chelsea. “This is hopefully the last few months before the vaccine is available for everyone and life can resume more normally.  We’re ready to face any challenges and are optimistic about the future.”