Many New York restaurants bracing for tough winter, fifth never expect pre-pandemic numbers: survey

Roughly one-fifth of New York restaurant operators said never expect business to return to pre-pandemic levels
Times Square during the pandemic

As autumn has returned, a new survey of New York restaurant operators shows nearly half do not expect a return to normalcy in the next 12 months. Almost a fifth never expect it to return.

The survey was completed by 206 operators last month for the New York State Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association. According to NYRSA President and CEO Melissa Fleischut, its results show that New York establishments are bracing for a tough winter.

Fears of the Delta variant are fueling that as 85% of respondents said they’ve seen a reduction in demand for indoor dining in recent weeks as a result of an increase in virus cases as a result of its highly contagious strain delta variant.

With colder weather now hitting and the pending decrease in outdoor dining availability, depressed indoor demand will likely worsen conditions in the months ahead.

That’s already happening for many as 62% of restaurants said business conditions have deteriorated in the past three months. And 71% said their sales for this past August were still lower than they experienced in August 2019.

"The statewide restaurant industry remains far from fully recovered due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic," Fleischut said.

The pandemic is just one of several issues New York restaurants face, according to survey results. Economic concerns, many of which are tied directly or otherwise to COVID-19, are also factors.

Roughly 9-in-10 operators report higher food costs and lower profit margins. 

Labor issues abound as well. The survey found 89% reported higher labor costs than pre-pandemic levels. Another 78% said they do not have enough workers to help satisfy the current customer demands.

Fleischut said the survey results show the industry needs help from leaders in Albany.

"By supporting our members and reinstating highly effective programs like ‘Alcohol-to-Go,’ we believe that the restaurant industry will have a chance at making a successful recovery," she said. "But that opportunity remains dependent on Albany's willingness to fight for our restaurants, all of whom play a key role in supporting New York’s vibrant culture and economy."

According to the New York State Department of Health, the state reported 2,203 new positive cases on Tuesday. The seven-day average positivity rate is 2.09 percent. There were 34 new deaths reported.

More than 86 percent of New York adults (18 and older) have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 78.2% are considered fully vaccinated.

State leaders are still encouraging the unvaccinated to get a shot, especially since the weather starts to limit outdoor activities.

"As we move towards colder months and more opportunities for people to gather indoors, the vaccine has become even more important," Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday.