Today, the Partnership issued the following statement to the New York City Planning Commission on Open Restaurants.
Thank you, Chair Laremont and members of the commission for the opportunity to testify in support of the Open Restaurants Text Amendment. The Partnership for New York City represents private sector employers of more than one million New Yorkers. We work together with government, labor and the nonprofit sector to maintain the city’s position as the preeminent global center of commerce, innovation and economic opportunity.
New York City has long been one of the world’s culinary capitals, with thousands of diverse restaurants that define our city’s brand and celebrate our diverse culture. Local restaurants anchor neighborhood commercial strips and are a prime tourist attraction. They offer entry-level jobs that can be the first step on the economic ladder for tens of thousands of New Yorkers. In 2019, they accounted for 7% of private sector employment, 8% of business establishments and about 13% of taxable sales in the city.
Restaurants were hit particularly hard by the restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 pandemic. Economic output from the city’s restaurants declined 40% in 2020, from $15 billion in 2019 to $9 billion in 2020. Restaurants also lost 197,000 jobs from February to April 2020, a decline of 73%. And they are still suffering. As of August 2021, employment in city restaurants was down 32%, or over 86,000 jobs, since February 2020 and the number of New York City reservations for sit- down dining was down about 49% from 2019 as of the week ending September 26.
The Open Restaurants Program, launched as a temporary measure in spring 2020, was a lifeline that helped many restaurants stay in business. It also helped revive commercial corridors that had seen a decline in activity and foot traffic due to the pandemic. After more than a year of experience with the Program, it is evident that outdoor dining can successfully exist far more widely than in the past and in locations not previously thought possible. It is also clear that new rules are necessary.
COVID-19 is never going to disappear, nor are the concerns about the spread of disease in indoor spaces. If restaurants, and with them the city, are to fully recover and thrive, we need to allow them to continue to serve food in expanded outdoor spaces. Zoning is a tool that is meant to guide change, not stop it. The proposed text amendment will allow for the best features of the temporary Open Restaurants Program to continue, but also permit setting standards and conditions that ensure the restaurants are an enhancement to the city. It will make it possible for the city to extend access to outdoor dining options to restaurants that may not have secured a permit to operate a sidewalk café up to now. This is an essential step toward establishing the standards and design guidelines that will ensure that the needs of restaurants are balanced with the many other necessary activities that occur on or underneath our city streets and sidewalks, including deliveries, utility maintenance and repair and film and television production. The Open Restaurant Program will be an enhancement to our city and its neighborhoods and we urge you to support the Open Restaurants Text Amendment.