A 6-month-old ban on indoor dining at New York City eateries is to be lifted starting Sept. 30 — but with restrictions.
Those include a maximum of 25% of the ordinary capacity, temperature checks of patrons at the front door, tables spaced at least 6 feet apart and mandatory collection of at least one patron’s contact information in each party.
The government would “immediately reassess” the eased restrictions, which were imposed in March to halt the spread of the coronavirus, if the citywide positivity rate hits at least 2%, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office said in a news release.
“We are continuing New York City’s economic recovery by bringing back indoor dining,” the release said, adding: “This may not look like the indoor dining that we all know and love, but it is progress for restaurant workers and all New Yorkers.”
The plan, announced Wednesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, is to be revisited around Nov. 1: If the infection rate seems to be under control, the capacity threshold could be hiked to 50%, the current level everywhere else in the state.
Since June, many eateries have been allowed to serve on streets, on sidewalks and in parking spots, a program that will keep supplementing indoor dining, both men said. It’s slated to end Oct. 31, but de Blasio has said an extension is being considered.
What was announced Wednesday also prohibits patrons from sitting at the bar, imposes a mandatory time closure no later than midnight, and requires customers to wear masks except when consuming. And each premise must meet air-filtration guidelines set by the state.
“New Yorkers, I’m asking, to report violations of that 25% capacity. We call it New Yorkers protecting New Yorkers,” said Cuomo, who said each eatery must post both its maximum capacity and the tip line that goes to a government task force.
The city will detail 400 inspectors to the task force policing compliance, Cuomo said.
Last week, Cuomo had suggested that reopening was possible if the city devoted 4,000 of its 36,000 NYPD cops to eatery enforcement.
The collected contact information — phone or email — given from each party will be used in case of an outbreak, he said.
Everywhere else in the state, collecting contact information is only a “best practice,” according to guidelines posted on governor.ny.gov.
In 2019, before the pandemic, there were about 319,000 people working in food services and drinking places in the city, according to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and there are an estimated 25,000 establishments, Greg Wagner, an outside spokesman for the NYC Hospitality Alliance, wrote in an email.
Across the country, several big municipalities have needed to tweak or scrap reopenings after outbreaks.
In Texas, eateries were allowed to reopen at a maximum of 25% capacity starting May 1, then at 50% on May 18, and 75% on June 12, before going back to 50% on June 26 due to an increase in cases.
And in Los Angeles, a ban was imposed in March, lifted in June, and reimposed in July because of a spike in cases. Restrictions in some parts of California have just begun this week to be eased.
In New York City, indoor dining was to resume starting July 6, but the plan was suspended indefinitely on July 1 as the mayor and governor, citing experiences elsewhere in the country, said they were worried that a resumption could seed infections.
Rikki Russo, manager of Chez Ma Tante in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, said her restaurant could service an additional 12 patrons at a time indoors — in addition to the tables now on the sidewalk and in a parking spot.
“If people are comfortable eating indoors,” Russo said, “we would, yes, gladly welcome them indoors.”
Melissa Fleischut, president and chief executive of the Albany-based New York State Restaurant Association, said of her membership: “I think they’re grateful just to get a date certain and be able to reopen.”
She said that members are in touch with the FDNY about what heating devices might be allowed for outdoor dining as the weather gets cold.
“We’re hearing that there’s a bit of a demand for heaters,” she said, noting that current city regulations on the outdoor dining program prohibit propane heaters.