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How Government Can Help Restaurants Through The Winter: REPORT


Nearly two dozen leaders of business groups, community groups and academic institutions, as well as technology experts and restaurant owners, pitched ideas for how lawmakers can help restaurants through New York’s cold weather season in a new report released last week. 

Private sector and nonprofit leaders across the five boroughs suggested the city help “winterize” outdoor seating spaces, adjust permitting, promote collaboration across sectors and provide small grants to help businesses adjust to the new normal, in a survey conducted by nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank Center for an Urban Future

“City, state, and federal financial assistance undoubtedly helped some businesses, but one creative policy solution did more than anything else to give the city’s small firms a lifeline: opening streets and sidewalks for outdoor dining,” the report states. “But with only a few weeks left of mild weather, it’s time for city and state policymakers to step in with a new set of creative solutions — policies and initiatives that give New York’s restaurants, shops and nightlife venues a crucial boost through the many cold months ahead.” 

New York City Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie, who has been one of the restaurant industry’s most vocal lobbyists since the start of the pandemic, said that the city should extend the options for outdoor heating and incentivize those who have gone back to their offices to eat out. 

“When workers do report back to the office, the cafés, restaurants and other small businesses they used to frequent on their commute and in the neighborhood will still be there, and in need of their help,” he said. 

Rigie also suggested that the city implement and enforce safety standards for indoor dining. 

“In the winter, safety compliance is going to be very important not only for restaurants but also for customers," he said. "Bringing diners back inside of restaurants is going to require conveying a level of comfort and safety through both restaurant protocols and customer best practices." 

Design Trust for Public Space Executive Director Matthew Clarke, who runs an incubator that cultivates relationships between the community, private companies and the government to promote effective design of public space, suggested allocating public funds to small businesses to assist in building "placemaking spaces," or creating public space inspired by the cultural and social personality of a given location.

“Providing funding to these mostly volunteer-run local organizations would increase their capacity, allowing them to be able to steward these streets throughout the winter and beyond,” he said. 

Clarke also proposed increasing collaboration with the art community to create a distinct seasonal experience for restaurant patrons. 

“The projects might include working with local artists to design light installations near business corridors to encourage people to walk in those areas as we begin to lose sunlight,” he said in the report. “Ultimately, these initiatives can provide winter outdoor experiences that support small businesses throughout the winter months ahead.” 

Business group leaders and those in academia alike said that the city should help restaurants and other small businesses transition to e-commerce. 

Joyce Moy, the executive director of City University of New York’s Asian American/Asian Research Institute, suggested that the city's business talent from its universities could contribute their knowledge to the initiative. 

“We should organize MBA students, volunteer marketing, digital, and design professionals to assist mom-and-pop small businesses to get online and manage a virtual form of business,” she said in the report. 

The report comes at a key moment in an already dire situation for restaurants. 

After a brutal seven months for restaurants that were forced to shutter temporarily or operate at limited capacity since March, surviving another winter is highly uncertain for some. Some say that, even with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s move to extend outdoor dining indefinitely, they will not be able to host guests outside through the cold season.

An August survey of some 1,042 restaurants around the state conducted by the New York State Restaurant Association found that nearly two-thirds of restaurants would close permanently in 2020 without additional monetary assistance from the government. 

Industry lobby groups hope that Congress approves the RESTAURANTS Act, a bill that would provide a $120B bailout for the restaurant industry in the way that Congress did for airlines at the beginning of the pandemic. It, along with other federal stimulus measures, is stalled amid negotiations among the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate.