COVID-19

Colder weather is driving diners indoors. But not that many can safely fit.

Jasmine Garsd Oct 23, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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A waiter delivers food to a table at Chelsea Square Restaurant as New York City restaurants open for limited capacity indoor dining on Oct. 1, 2020. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Colder weather is driving diners indoors. But not that many can safely fit.

Jasmine Garsd Oct 23, 2020
A waiter delivers food to a table at Chelsea Square Restaurant as New York City restaurants open for limited capacity indoor dining on Oct. 1, 2020. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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It’s an autumn evening in New York right out of the movies — trees changing color and people walking by wearing scarves. But at La Locanda in Brooklyn, the silence is heavy. There’s only one patron, eating outside. Owner Cono Colombo is worried. “We don’t make no money. We just go day by day,” he said. “That’s the only thing you do. But you can’t put no money on the side.”

It’s been about three weeks since New York City restaurants got approval to serve diners indoors, but only at 25% capacity. If infections are under control, that could expand. But with case numbers creeping up, dining could get shut down again when the state takes another look next week. 

Colombo says outdoor seating and a PPP loan saved La Locanda this summer. But no one wants to eat their linguini della nonna while chattering their teeth in New York winter. And Colombo says he has little faith in outdoor heaters helping.  Inside, under state rules, he can only fit about 4 people at a time. So he worries customers might go somewhere bigger, instead. Plus, it’s going to cost him more to make it safe for those four people. “Now we gotta have an extra person to sit out by the door to take the temperature. You gotta clean twice. You gotta do so many thing. How do you survive like that?”

A lot of restaurants haven’t even survived this far. According to Yelp data, over 32,000 restaurants across the country have closed since the pandemic.  

Guy Kairi owns Concord Hill restaurant and has been taking earnings from his foie gras and truffle terrine to make his indoor space safer. But he says, “the obvious truth is people don’t want to sit inside yet. Even though we complied with installing new filters, and the light in the AC that kills whatever.” 

Kairi says he has about 30% fewer customers since it started getting cool. He’s brought in a group of contractors to talk about heating and expanding his sidewalk dining areas. 

Like Colombo, Kairi says what really kept him afloat this summer was a PPP loan. “Every week that goes by, you’re just digging a hole that you’re not going to be able to recover from,” he said. “Right now, we need a second PPP to be passed so I can keep employees, and keep paying rent, and not have to beg to the landlord, to the purveyors. “ 

Congress is stalled on passing further pandemic assistance. And as temperatures keep dropping, restaurants say that help can’t come soon enough.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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