City-Based Restaurants See Effects of COVID on Dining

dish on white ceramic plate

Restaurants in cities are particularly struggling with attracting diners during COVID, even with outdoor dining options available.

Even New York City’s Michelin-starred restaurants are having trouble, reported The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 2).

Daniel Boulud, the chef and restaurateur behind Michelin-starred Daniel and other establishments in the city, said it will be a disaster if they cannot open inside as the summer ends. He noted that he can’t rule out the possibility of having to close some locations permanently depending on what officials determine.

Many report business is still down 70% compared with pre-pandemic levels even with outdoor dining programs. Restaurateur and CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Danny Meyer said the lack of clarity is crippling his ability to plan for the future with autumn on the way.

Originally, the state said that indoor dining in the city could resume July 6 at reduced capacity as part of its phased statewide reopening, but officials nixed the dining plan in the city, saying the health risks with restaurants remained too great.

City officials still haven’t changed course even as indoor dining has been allowed to resume elsewhere in the state. Additionally, neighboring New Jersey recently announced indoor dining will be available with capacity restrictions starting Sept. 4.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the municipality’s health team is looking at “this issue all the time” in partnership with the state but didn’t commit to any time frame as to when a decision would be made on indoor dining.

In Massachusetts, outdoor dining represented a third of restaurant sales during the summer, reported The Boston Globe (Sept. 2). This is an interesting feat considering only 20% of the state’s restaurants had outdoor dining options before the pandemic, according to analysts at the Federal Reserve Bank.

Restaurants operating on the state’s coast reported 75% of typical sales through the summer, though restaurants in the city of Boston are faring worse compared to the rest of the state. Restaurants resumed indoor dining in June, but many expanded into outdoor spaces in order to serve customers who might not yet be comfortable venturing indoors during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, in Canada, the lack of people going to work in the city of Halifax is weighing on eateries and the business community is concerned conditions will get worse once summer tourists are gone, reported CBC (Sept. 2).

“We don’t really see the lunch hours like we used to because the government workers and stuff are not downtown,” said Mary Ellen Planetta who owns Elle’s Bistro.

Although a small boost of tourism from the Atlantic bubble allowed them to “keep the lights on,” Planetta said this summer felt more like typical business in January or February. Looking over their numbers recently, Planetta said this July and August brought in just below 50% of their total for the same months last year.

A survey conducted by The Downtown Halifax Business Commission found only about 20% to 25% of the workforce has returned to their jobs, and while some are optimistic that September may bring a spike in workforce commuters, the head of the commission said a full return isn’t likely anytime soon.