New York will lift its ban on indoor dining in New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday.
Restaurants will be allowed to open their dining rooms to 25% capacity on September 30, Cuomo said. Outdoor dining has been allowed in the city since June 23, but Mayor Bill De Blasio delayed indoor dining indefinitely on July 1 even as other locales opened up.
At the end of August, more than 300 New York City restauranteurs filed a class-action lawsuit against Governor Cuomo and Mayor De Blasio seeking $2 billion in damages. Before that lawsuit was filed, the New York Hospitality Alliance had threatened to sue the city to reopen indoor dining.
Although New York City was a COVID-19 hotspot early in the pandemic, the number of reported cases has remained relatively low since June. Meanwhile, other parts of the country that reopened indoor dining during the summer have seen a spike in cases, with some forced to shut down economic activity a second time.
But despite a general consensus among epidemiologists that indoor dining is riskier than outdoor dining, many Americans seem to be ready to return to restaurant dining rooms.
A recent survey of over 1,000 consumers by restaurant analytics company Toast found that 58% of respondents said they would be at least somewhat comfortable dining at a restaurant indoors. When compared to 72% of respondents that said they would be at least somewhat comfortable dining outdoors, the difference is significant but not overwhelming.
Still, indoor dining won’t be a silver bullet for New York’s beleaguered restaurant industry. Many restaurants don’t turn a profit unless their dining rooms are full or mostly full. While some have pivoted to focus on delivery and takeout, for most restaurants, a return to pre-COVID levels of income remains a distant dream.