Dining cabins sit on curbs of NYC streets this past winter as restaurants try desperately to stay afloat. Photo: NY Eater

Predictably, 2020 was a horrible year for restaurants nationwide. And as expected, the Big Apple’s economy, which thrives off of tourism and hospitality, slowed to a painful halt after the March lockdown of “nonessential” businesses and strict guidelines were put in place to discourage incoming travel from tourists.

The result: 75% of restaurants in the 5 boroughs lost 50% or more of their revenue in 2020. This past January reflected weekly revenue losses of 90-100% for half of all restaurants compared to January of last year. At least 1,000 restaurants had permanently shuttered by mid-December of 2020, and–due to difficulty tracking bars and restaurant closures accurately–that number is a mild estimate.

Quite the crippling effect considering bars and restaurants led to just 1.4% of all COVID-19 cases in the state, according to data from the office of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“[The lockdown] is not a highly nuanced, sophisticated response,” Cuomo said in a leaked, recorded conversation last October. “This is a fear-driven response. You know, this is not a policy being written by a scalpel. This is a policy being cut by a hatchet. But it’s out of fear. People see the numbers going up, ‘Close everything! Close everything!’ It’s not the best way to do it, but it is a fear-driven response. The virus scares people.”

After restaurants were limited to just takeout and delivery services for nearly 3 months, outdoor dining was permitted last June. Indoor dining was subsequently allowed just steps away in the neighboring Westchester County and Long Island, but was not allowed again in NYC until September. But in December, indoor dining was prohibited in NYC once again and restaurants were forced to make the most of pop-up patios and heaters in the dead of winter.

In pre-Covid times, the restaurant industry provided NYC with approximately 15% of its total taxable sales across the city in 2019, according to Globest. It had 23,650 establishments, provided 317,800 jobs, paid $10.7 billion in total wages citywide, and made nearly $27 billion.

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