There are ample signs that a resurgence has begun. Tables are packed at restaurants and bars across the city. Many places have expanded their capacity with new outdoor seating, thanks to the city’s Open Streets and Open Restaurant programs.
“It feels like every day is a weekend,” said Simone Tong, the chef of Silver Apricot, in the West Village. “The energy is back.”
With commercial retail rents in New York City at record lows, some restaurants are signing new leases. There have been 1,713 new restaurant permit applications from Jan. 1 through July 2, according to figures from the city health department (which also include renewals for existing restaurants).
Still, in 2019, the number of applications for roughly that same period was 2,388, and many owners say they’re a long way from the old normal.
“People think that because restaurants are allowed to be at 100 percent, and when they go into the restaurants, they’re full, that everything is fine,” said Jeffrey Bank, the chief executive of Alicart Restaurant Group, which owns Carmine’s and Virgil’s Real Barbecue. “And clearly it is not.”
The damage the pandemic has already done is coming into focus. Just before the state shut down indoor dining in March 2020, New York had more than 27,000 restaurants, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The department doesn’t yet have current figures, but Yelp, which tracks restaurant openings, shows there are now about 2,000 fewer. The city had 173,500 restaurant employees in June, a 38 percent drop from the 280,000 who were working in December 2019, according to the New York State Department of Labor.