Indoor Dining Returns to New York City, but Will Customers?

The restaurant industry, battered by the pandemic, is hoping indoor dining will help ease months of hardship.

By Michael Gold

At noon on Wednesday, the first day in months that New York City’s restaurants were allowed to resume indoor dining, Aroma Brazil in Queens had only three diners inside — hardly a crowd.

But for the owner, Sydney Costa, even three people was cause for celebration.

The return of indoor dining is a major step forward in New York’s recovery and a critical moment for a restaurant industry that has been struggling for months in the face of a pandemic that devastated it.

When the coronavirus pandemic swept into New York, Mr. Costa’s restaurant closed for three months. In June, he reopened for outdoor dining only to find that eating outdoors on bustling Roosevelt Avenue was not popular with his customers.

So Mr. Costa, who has laid off 12 employees and no longer draws a paycheck, desperately hoped the return of indoor dining, however limited, might boost his bottom line.

“It’s make or break right now,” he said.

Yet the delight among restaurant owners was also marked by trepidation over whether customers would feel safe enough to return, whether state-imposed limits would further eat away at profits, and whether a recent uptick in virus cases in parts of Brooklyn and Queens could bring a resurgence that might prompt another lockdown.

“I am full of anxiety and excitement,” said the chef Daniel Boulud, whose restaurant Daniel was set to reopen indoors. “Anxiety because it’s the first day, and the first time, and we want to make sure that we all feel comfortable with all that.”

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