For so many New York City restaurants, surviving the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic was tough enough. The winter push powered by Omicron makes things even more difficult.
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said Omicron delivered “another punch” to the entire restaurant and nightlife industry in the five boroughs with a series of massive bookings cancellations, holiday postponements and staff shortages.
“We were on such a better path just a few weeks ago, and this increase in the number of cases is another blow to an industry that was facing a long road to recovery,” Rigie said in an interview with amNewYork Metro on Tuesday about its organization. efforts to bring municipal, state and federal governments to the rescue once again.
The alliance – which has openly mobilized for restaurant relief efforts throughout the pandemic – unveiled a 10-point action plan on Dec. 21 for the government’s efforts to tackle the Omicron crisis. and help local restaurants cope with the resulting financial turmoil.
With reports of massive bookings cancellations and staff shortages due to the surge in COVID-19 infections this month, the New York City Hospitality Alliance – one of the industry’s biggest advocates restoration – now urging the city, state and federal government to do more to help small businesses weather this latest crisis.
Two of the points are obvious: The alliance urged all government leaders to communicate clearly with business and the public, including resisting calls for further closures and capacity restrictions. They also called on the government to continue to advocate for more New Yorkers to get vaccinated and receive boosters.
Other more comprehensive ideas on the action plan are aimed at alleviating new financial burdens on restaurateurs, such as offsetting the cost of COVID-19 sick leave from employees, converting sales taxes collected into grants from employees. emergency and replenishment of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a federal program in the US bailout that provided billions of dollars in aid to restaurants across America. Rigie noted that 65% of New York City restaurants ended up being excluded from this aid because funds had run out by the time they requested it.
âThe restaurants that were lucky enough to receive the grant were able to pay their rent and other expenses, while others were left behind, and now it’s winter, and they still haven’t received the support they need, âadded Rigie.
When COVID-19 first hit New York City, restaurants and bars were closed due to capacity restrictions. Some businesses have never reopened, while others that have persisted during the health crisis have hung on by offering take-out or delivery services and, from June 2020, al fresco dining. Indoor meals briefly returned online in fall 2020, but quickly stopped after a spike in cases; it was finally restored in the spring of 2021, as the vaccination effort reduced cases of the virus.
But massive closures and capacity restrictions are putting many restaurateurs in serious financial difficulty. At one point in the pandemic, a New York City Hospitality Alliance survey found that some 86% of restaurant owners said they could only pay part of their rent, if any.
Balance the scale
Relief programs, such as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, have helped many restaurant owners across the country recover. Still, that hasn’t helped the 65% of New York City restaurants to opt out of the program, Rigie said, and it has created an uneven situation for the restaurant and nightlife industry.
The arrival of the Omicron variant, while harmful, allows federal lawmakers to correct the disparities by replenishing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, he added.
âThis is critically important because the financial situation is still dire based on the past 20 months, which would change their business and their lives,â noted Rigie.
He also wants Congress and the President to pass a law that local Congressman Jerry Nadler sponsored to change the Paycheck Protection Program to bail out business owners who have received federal assistance through the program in 2020 and who ended up being forced to repay it through loans.
The alliance also wants the reinstatement of “Alcohol to Go,” a measure authorized at the height of COVID-19 that allowed companies to sell beer, wine and cocktails to customers ordering delivery or take out. This program ended when indoor dining was restored, but the alliance notes that the program had generated the necessary income for restaurants and bars and was popular with customers.
As many New Yorkers might feel more comfortable dining out these days, even in cold weather, the alliance is also urging city council to re-allow the use of propane heaters. The devices were banned last year, but Rigie believes they are essential tools for restaurants to provide safe outdoor dining options in the middle of winter – and has the backing of Mayor-elect Eric Adams and from city council member Keith Powers, who introduced legislation to re-legalize radiators.
Some New York City restaurants received good news Tuesday when Governor Kathy Hochul announced the Restaurant Resilience Program will provide 200,000 meals to New Yorkers in need this holiday season. Participating restaurants create meals to distribute and receive payment for their services.
âDuring the holiday season, no family in New York State should go hungry,â Hochul said. âThe Restaurant Resilience Program takes an innovative approach to help New Yorkers facing food insecurity and struggling restaurants during the pandemic. Programs like these showcase the spirit of generosity and collaboration that is essential to New York’s success.