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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Strong

Survey Finds 70% Occupancy Needed to Reopen Restaurants

Our friends at the NYC Hospitality Alliance released a survey today detailing the unique challenges local restaurants and bars are facing as the city prepares to reopen businesses and restart the economy.

Social distancing regulations will require lower occupancy, but for many New York City restaurants high rent and labor costs, lower occupancy is not an option compatible with survival. Businesses in the industry who were struggling to make it before the pandemic hit New York City in March say it will be impossible to reopen and survive operating at drastically lower occupancy.

The Alliance surveyed owners and operators of 483 New York City restaurants and bars and found two thirds of respondents reported that when they’re allowed to serve customers inside, they’ll need at least 70 percent occupancy in order to try reopening for business. Only one quarter of respondents said they can operate at 50 percent occupancy, according to the survey. 87 percent of restaurants and bars could not pay their May rent, or only paid a portion of it. 42 percent of businesses that received funding through the federal government’s PPP stimulus plan are unsure if they’ll use it, because the program requires that they rehire staff to pre-pandemic levels by June 30. Many businesses don’t believe that scenario is realistic given they are still closed by government mandate, and when they are permitted to reopen it will be under reduced occupancy and social distancing requirements.

The data from the survey underscores the need to expand restaurant and bar service onto sidewalks (City Council just passed a bill to waive sidewalk consent fees as part of a suite of bills to save restaurants), public spaces, and streets closed to vehicle traffic.  “This eye-opening data adds to the challenges our industry is facing as we look to reopen the economy,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance in a press release. “To help restaurants and bars reopen and stay open safely, we need to reimagine how we use public space – sidewalks, streets, pedestrian plazas and parks – and allow businesses to set up and serve customers in these areas. Most restaurants and bars were barely surviving before the shutdown, and if they are forced to operate solely at 50 percent capacity once they reopen, it will be a death knell for the industry.”

For full survey results, a link to the NYC Hospitality Alliance website is available here.

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