Indoor dining will resume with limited capacity in New York City restaurants next month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Friday, more than a month after the governor had banned it to combat a second wave of the coronavirus.
Starting on Feb. 14, the city’s restaurants can seat customers indoors at 25 percent maximum capacity, officials said.
The announcement was a source of hope for the restaurant industry, an important driver of the city’s economic engine, which has been decimated by virus-induced restrictions that have forced many restaurants and bars to go out of business and caused thousands of workers to lose their jobs.
After shutting down restaurants in March, Mr. Cuomo allowed the city’s indoor dining to restart in late September. He prohibited it again in mid-December as holiday travel threatened to increase transmission of the virus and overwhelm hospitals.
Restaurants and bars that have stayed afloat have relied on takeout and delivery, as well as outdoor dining, an increasingly untenable option as the frigid winter advances.
It did not take long for New Yorkers to seize on the good news and try to secure what will likely be a coveted reservation inside for Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.
Cafe Luxembourg, an intimate French bistro on the Upper West Side, started fielding “many, many calls” from patrons immediately after the governor’s announcement, according to Judi Wong, one of the managers.
“We’re always preparing for a change,” Ms. Wong said about the state’s shifting restrictions, which had relegated the bistro to outdoor tents with heat lamps. “And this was a welcome change.”
Some restaurants that had temporarily closed might not resume service even under the new rules. But for many that have stayed open, indoor dining will be a much-needed lifeline and significantly boost capacity.
Cote, an upscale Korean barbecue steak house in the Flatiron district, will be able to double the number of people it can sit to about 100, up from the estimated 50 it can serve in its outside cabanas, according to the owner, Simon Kim.
“It’s been very challenging,” said Mr. Kim, adding that the restaurant already had a 100-reservation waiting list for Valentine’s Day. “Now that we are opening indoors, it’s going to mean we no longer have to hemorrhage tens of thousands dollars each week.”
While the restaurant industry celebrated the announcement, it also expressed dismay with the lag time of more than two weeks. The governor said that the delay of the start of indoor dining was meant to give businesses time to order supplies, notify workers and “get up to speed,” and cautioned that the plan could change if positive test rates worsened.
“Restaurants in the city are ready to safely open now,” said Andrew Rigie, the director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. “Unfortunately, once again the state’s standards are being applied inequitably in the five boroughs without a transparent and data-driven system for further reopening the city’s restaurant economy.”
Indeed, New York City eateries have suffered the brunt of the governor’s restrictions. Indoor dining restrictions in most other parts of the state were lifted more quickly, and those restaurants have been able to operate at double the capacity allowed in the city.
The industry had hoped that the state would allow restaurants in the city to stay open until midnight, but state officials were adhering to the statewide closing time of 10 p.m.
The governor’s decision comes at an incredibly precarious phase in the state’s battle against the virus, which has killed more than 42,500 people in New York State, the one-time epicenter of the pandemic.
While the state’s hospitalization and positivity rates have begun to trend downward after a post-holidays spike, more than 150 people have died each day this week and more than 8,350 remain hospitalized, a level not seen since early May.
The state’s vaccine rollout has been sluggish, due in part to limited doses from the federal government; only 6 percent of New York’s population has been vaccinated so far. More than 40 cases of the more contagious British variant have also been detected statewide.
In New York City, the number of cases has steadily decreased after a recent peak in early January, but more than 30 ZIP codes are grappling with a seven-day average positive test rate of more than 10 percent. While the positivity rate in Manhattan is at 4.41 percent — well below the citywide seven-day average of 8.63 percent — other boroughs are still struggling with an alarming frequency of cases. In the Bronx, the rate has hovered around 10 percent, according to city data.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday that he had spoken to the governor several times in recent days about indoor dining. The mayor expressed concern with new variants and the vaccine supply, but said he understood that restaurants were trying to stay afloat.
“The whole idea here is to try to strike the right balance, and I know the governor is trying to do it,” the mayor said shortly before Mr. Cuomo’s announcement.
The governor also said on Friday that he would issue guidance to allow large marriage ceremonies with strict measures in place to take place starting March 15. Wedding events would need to be approved by local health departments, guests would need to be tested, and capacity at venues would be capped at 50 percent, or up to 150 people.
Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, has made reopening the economy a tenet of his agenda in 2021, a delicate balancing act that requires weighing public health against the urgent need to resuscitate the economy and raise much-needed tax revenue.
On Wednesday, the governor lifted a range of lesser restrictions — including four-person-at-a-table rules and some limits on indoor dining — in dozens of regions upstate where rising rates had caused concern late last year. But he had delayed a decision on New York City’s restaurants, which provide billions in economic activity and more than 100,000 jobs, citing the city’s density.
There is, of course, no guarantee that cases will continue to trend downward, but Mr. Cuomo said he had to “deal with the facts that you know,” adding that, “if you are to anticipate possibilities and do nothing, you would be frozen in place, forever.”
Bernard Collin, the general manager of La Goulue, a French restaurant on the Upper East Side, was thankful for the situation’s fluidity.
“I’ve been, for the past two hours, scrambling to change our floor plans and change our online reservation platform to include the 25 percent capacity,” Mr. Collin said, adding that the restaurant would have to buy more food for its previously sold-out prix fixe Valentine’s Day menu.
Indoor dining would allow the restaurant to seat 44 people in addition to the 28 it can serve outside. That is still down from the establishment’s maximum capacity of 180 people before the pandemic.
“It’s a shot in the arm, and it’s definitely going to help us tremendously,” Mr. Collin added. “I sent a group text to the staff earlier that we’ll be able to see familiar faces soon again.”
Emma G. Fitzsimmons contributed reporting.