Back to normal? It’s a tall order as New York City restaurants struggle.

There are many signs that a resurgence has started. The tables are packed in the restaurants and bars of the city. Many places have increased their capacity with new outdoor seating, thanks to the city’s Open Streets and Open Restaurant programs.

“It feels like every day is a weekend,” said Simone Tong, chef at Silver Apricot in the West Village. “The energy is back.”

With retail rents in New York at an all-time low, some restaurants are signing new leases. There were 1,713 new restaurant permit applications from Jan. 1 to July 2, according to figures from the city’s health department (which also include renewals for existing restaurants).

Yet in 2019, the number of claims for roughly the same time was 2,388, and many owners say they are far from the old normal.

“People think that because restaurants are allowed to be 100%, and when they enter restaurants, they are full, that everything is fine,” said Jeffrey Bank, managing director of Alicart Restaurant Group, which owns Carmine’s and Virgil’s. Real barbecue. “And clearly it is not.”

The damage that the pandemic has already caused is starting to show. Just before the state closed indoor restaurants in March 2020, New York City had more than 27,000 restaurants, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The department doesn’t have current numbers yet, but Yelp, which tracks restaurant openings, shows there are now about 2,000 fewer. The city had 173,500 restaurant workers in June, down 38% from the 280,000 who worked in December 2019, according to the New York State Department of Labor.

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