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All The Facts About The NYC 2021 Indoor Dining Reopening, Capacity Limits, And Curfews – A Timeline of Events

On June 15, 2021, the governor of NY announced that Covid-19 restrictions and guidance are officially lifted for commercial establishments and businesses, except for large-scale indoor event venues. Health and safety precautions are now optional for most consumer businesses. However, unvaccinated individuals are still responsible for wearing masks per CDC guidance.

This is the official statement:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that COVID-19 restrictions are lifted immediately as 70 percent of New Yorkers aged 18 or older have received the first dose of their COVID-19 vaccination series. The State’s health guidance and New York Forward industry specific guidelines—including social gathering limits, capacity restrictions, social distancing, cleaning and disinfection, health screening, and contact information for tracing—are now optional for retail, food services, offices, gyms and fitness centers, amusement and family entertainment, hair salons, barber shops and personal care services, among other commercial settings.

NY.gov

Given these changes, this article will now serve as a timeline for all the changes made throughout NY’s reopening procedures.

The Lift Of Indoor Dining Restrictions

On January 29th 2021, NY Governor Cuomo tweeted that, given the latest “positivity rates,” indoor dining restrictions may be lifted at 5am on February 14th, 2021. Then on February 8th 2021, it was officially announced on the NYC.gov website that bars and restaurants will reopen on February 12th, 2021.

This reopening was just in time for Valentine’s Day, and some of the worst weather this entire winter. We are still shoveling the snowfall from the recent 2021 Groundhog Day nor’easter.

Governor Cuomo Tweet About February 14 Indoor Dining Reopening And Capacity limits - Always The VIP

This reopening comes at the heel of the latest data showing a drop in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. A drop that took us 2 months of bar and restaurant closures and limits on private social gatherings to achieve. Here’s the most recent case data:

One would like to think reopening just means everything is open, business as usual. But it’s not. There are still a lot of restrictions in place, and it’s hard to find all of them without reading 20 different articles. So here is everything that you should know about the NYC reopening.

What Are The Indoor Dining Capacity Limits in NYC Now?

Update: On May 10th, indoor dining capacity limits based on a percentage of occupancy limits are lifted. The catch is that establishments are still responsible for limiting guests to the extent that they can maintain 6 feet of social distancing.

But they also announced something new, that if all guests provide proof of vaccination, masks and social distancing are not required! So a business would be able to operate at 100% capacity with no social distancing restrictions if all guests are vaccinated.

…Given that the CDC has advised that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to maintain social distance, businesses may eliminate the 6 feet of required social distancing, and therefore increase capacity, only if all patrons within the establishment — or a separate designated part of the establishment — present proof of full vaccination status.

NY.Gov

Prior: On March 10th, both NY Governor Cuomo and NJ Governor Murphy announced that indoor dining capacity for bar and restaurant establishments inside of NYC is increased to 50% as of March 19th, 2021. While establishments outside of NYC can reopen at 75% capacity.

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Originally, on February 12th, 2021 indoor dining at bars and restaurants in NYC was reopened with a 25% capacity limit (set by the certificate of occupancy).

Then during a press conference on February 19th, 2021, NY governor Cuomo accounted that indoor dining capacity would be increased from 25% to 35% on Friday, February 26, 2021. This plan to increase the capacity limit was tentative, as long as the trend of new cases continues to improve.

NYC Indoor dining capacity to 35 percent on feb 26 press conference announcement on Feb 19 - Always The VIP
NYC Indoor dining capacity increase to 35 percent on Feb 26th – Governor Cuomo Press Conference

Between the higher demand of couples who are in dire need of a date night out, and the weather being around 37 Degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of winter, few people want to sit outside. Even if there are heaters, NYC winter winds are brutal, plain and simple.

Besides this, anything under a 50% capacity limit will not allow enough customers for many restaurants to make enough revenue to cover their operating costs. Supplies, waiters, bar tenders, cooks, manager all cost money. So many restaurants still won’t reopen unless the capacity limits are higher, to the ring of 50% or better.

What is the Indoor Dining Curfew in NYC Now?

Update: Effective on May 31st, the indoor dining curfew will be lifted!

On April 2021, the indoor dining curfew was 12 AM. The indoor dining curfew was planned to be lifted on May 31st, 2021, as per this tweet by Governor Cuomo:

Governor Cuomo Tweet about May 2021 curfews lifted Always The VIP
Governor Cuomo Tweet about May 2021 curfews lifted

Effective February 14th 2021, indoor dining at bars and restaurants in NYC reopened with an extended curfew of 11 PM EST. This extension to 12 AM allows businesses to reopen with the new hours of operation for indoor dining at bars and restaurants of:

  • Monday – Sunday: 10 AM – 12 AM

Currently, the “Last Call” for all bars and restaurants in NYC matches the mandated curfew, which is currently 12 AM. “Last Call” is the time when the bar or restaurant must stop serving alcohol. Although, it is usually announced 30 minutes ahead to allow for service and billing time. When these curfews are lifted, the Last Call time in NYC should return to 4 AM.

While this is definitely welcome news, businesses still demand a later curfew to help justify costs. Between the curfew and capacity limits, businesses just can’t survive.

This demand is quite valid, especially given that the dining curfew was originally intended to deter diners from crossing state lines to NYC and contribute to the spread. Eater.com mentions this in their recent article,

Cuomo said that the curfew was put in place in part to discourage people from neighboring states with dining curfews — including New Jersey and Connecticut — from crossing state lines to eat later in New York and potentially contributing to COVID-19 spread.

Eater.com

New Jersey is the closest neighboring state and the easiest to travel to. And New Jersey has already lifted their dining curfews on February 5th, 2021. So, why do we still have a curfew if the original motivation is no longer present? As long as NYC has a curfew and other nearby cities don’t, New Yorkers will instead leave NYC and potentially spread the coronavirus to those neighboring states now.

What is the Outdoor Dining Curfew in NYC Now?

Update: Effective May 17th, outdoor dining curfew has been lifted!

Prior: As of April 2021, the indoor dining curfew is 12 AM. The indoor dining curfew was planned to be lifted on May 31st, 2021

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This extended the outdoor dining curfew in NYC from 11 PM, making the current hours of operation for outdoor dining in NYC:

  • Monday – Saturday: 8 am-12 AM
  • Sunday: 10 am-12 AM

Whether the indoor dining curfew will be pushed up to 8 AM remains to be seen, but it will likely be set to match the new indoor dining curfew.

What Are The Current Capacity Limits For Events?

Update: As of April 2, 2021, Arts and Entertainment Venues can operate at 33% capacity, with maximums of 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors.

As of May 19th, 2021, large scale indoor events can operate at 30% capacity.

Large-scale outdoor event venues have no set limit but must limit guests to comply with social distancing restrictions.

Prior to this change, non-essential gatherings for events at indoor dining establishments, such as large event spaces and catering halls were capped at 50 guests of the current max occupancy by law. This doesn’t count staff, so one might think this doesn’t include organizers as well (gray area).

For example, if the indoor capacity is 100, and we are limited to 25% capacity, then the maximum guests would be 25!

This limit may be increased when the indoor dining capacities increase.

What Are the Current Capacity Limits For Private Social Gatherings?

Update: As of May 10th, private social gathering limits are increased:

  • From 10 to 50 people at private social gathering at indoor residences
  • From 25 to unlimited for private social gatherings at outdoor residences

Past: According to the NYC.gov website, on March 22, 2021, these social gathering limits were:

  • 100 people in indoor public spaces
  • 200 people in outdoor public spaces
  • 10 people in indoor private residences
  • 25 people in outdoor private residences

So apparently, you are better off hosting your event at a dining establishment. That’s if you just don’t call it an “event” Perhaps have everyone make the same reservations or just show up. Go figure.

What Do Bar And Restaurant Owners Think of the Curfews?

The dining curfews defy logic. COVID-19 transmission doesn’t change if you are day drinking or night drinking. Have you ever heard of this thing called “Boozy Brunch?” Believe people are out there getting wasted in the AM.

Viruses don’t care what time of day it is. Here’s what a manager for many popular NYC nightlife venues had to say about the curfew,

11 PM is a nice gesture. But the only reason it’s not later is that the government believes after that time, as people start getting intoxicated, they stop following the implemented distancing and mask regulations. I hope that things turn back to full 4 AM function sooner than later; New York needs it.

Jonas Young-Borra (Nightlife Curator)

And here’s what the owner of the trendy karaoke bar RPM Underground, Sam Huh, had to say about the curfew as he patiently waits for it to be extended later so that he can reopen:

11 PM is better than 10. But 12 AM is better than 11 PM.

This curfew is preventing businesses from opening just as much as the shutdown of indoor dining did. If businesses are open, then the risk is the same no matter what time of day it is. All that matters is that those health and safety precautions are in place and being observed.

Will Reopening Bars and Restaurants Make the COVID-19 Cases Rise Again?

When shutting down bars and restaurants for the second time, Cuomo reported that they only account for 1.43% of the spread of COVID-19. That suggest that as long as health and safety precautions are in place then we are unlikely to see them cause a significant rise in cases.

According to the same contact tracing data, 73.84% of COVID-19 cases came from “Household/Social Gatherings.” Which suggests that you have a significantly higher chance of catching COVID-19 at private social gatherings and home than you would at bars. This leading cause was coined the “Living Room Spread.”

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“Living Room Spread,” is when people are exposed to disease or viral infections due to being in close quarters with members of their household. This includes contact with close family members, friends, and acquaintances while gathering in private residences.

The data suggests that it is safe enough for you to go out and get that fat steak and bottle of wine from your favorite steakhouse that you have been yearning for! And that the real danger is when you get home – go figure.

I’ll keep this post updated with the most current indoor and outdoor dining capacity limits and curfews as they change during this reopening. Which will hopefully be our last.

PS: I’ll be releasing an article soon about what bars and restaurants need to do next to stay open. So stay tuned for that. For now, I hope you find a spot with a great mojito. Maybe I’ll see you there, cheers!

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