NYC restaurants emerge from jab mandate half empty, stiffed by Washington

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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse leans on previous movie’s post-credits scene

New York City’s restaurants remain starved for diners following the end of the vaccine mandate Monday, the last of the pandemic restrictions that decimated Gotham’s world-famous dining scene.

Citywide table reservations were down 53.2 percent on Monday, the first day since August they were open to all diners, compared with the same date in 2020, according to OpenTable.

“Restaurants feel like they had been singled out by countless mandates that were confusing, didn’t make sense and unfairly targeted the industry,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “There is still a very long road to recovery.”

Only Seattle (-54.0%) and San Francisco (-56.9%) were at lower dining capacity than New York City. Seattle’s restaurant vaccine mandate ended March 1. San Francisco is still enforcing the policy.

Many cities around the country are already in the midst of a robust dining recovery, soaring past pre-pandemic numbers, including Nashville (+25.9%), Miami (+28.9%) and Las Vegas (44.3%). Reservations in New York City were down by as much as 72 percent as recently as late January.

062220 The Altesi Downtown restaurant (corner of Spring and Thompson St., NYC) is open for business
The Altesi Downtown restaurant is part of an industry that has been hard-hit by vaccine mandates.
Matthew McDermott

The number of people employed by New York City restaurants declined 25.4 percent from the end of 2019 to the end of 2021, according to the latest figures in a report by the state comptroller’s office. The decline nationally was just 1.6 percent.

Local eateries remain half empty while the federal government’s new $1.5 trillion omnibus bill contains $0 in promised restaurant relief funds, prompting an outcry from a sector eviscerated by COVID-19 policies.

“We are beyond disappointed that this massive government funding proposal ignores the needs of 177,300 neighborhood restaurants and bars impacted by the pandemic,” the Independent Restaurant Coalition said this week.

Copelia diner
Many cities around the country are already in the midst of a robust dining recovery.
Stephen Yang

The Biden Administration dished out $26.8 billion in restaurant relief in 2021, but 72 percent of all applicants got nothing. High-profile chefs and restaurants appeared to feast on the federal funds while mom-and-pop eateries were left scrounging for scraps.

“Only 30 percent of federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund dollars made it to the 59 percent of businesses located in (New York City’s) low- and moderate-income communities,” the comptroller’s report states. “The remaining 70 percent went to businesses in more affluent communities.”

David Chang’s Momofuku Group, which operates ritzy restaurants in New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Toronto, fattened itself on $6.9 million in taxpayer cash through the 2021 fund.

NYC service industry
The Biden Administration dished out $26.8 billion in restaurant relief in 2021, but 72 percent of all applicants got nothing.
Matthew McDermott

Maria Morillo, the immigrant owner of Two Maria’s Pizza next to the Baruch housing projects on the Lower East Side, received just $1,816.38 — the lowest amount of any Manhattan eatery to benefit from the fund. Most eatery owners got $0.

“I’m disappointed,” she said at the time. “We’re trying to run a small business here. But they’re not concerned about us at all.”

The new federal budget offering no additional relief is “a true gut punch for an industry that was hoping our elected leaders would support them in their time of need,” said Rigie.

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