'We're terrified': Restaurants face uncertain future in coronavirus downturn

Restaurants across the New York City region are seeing an inevitable downturn as people curtail activities because of the coronavirus.  Now, many restaurants are fighting to survive. 

Jeremy Merrin is the founder and CEO of Havana Central, which has a location in Times Square.  He says the coronavirus outbreak is already a disaster for the Manhattan restaurant industry.

Havana Central is normally filled at lunchtime.  On Thursday, he only had four tables of customers. 

"We're terrified.  Sales are down almost down 30% and we don't know what the future holds and we think people are just going to stop going out."

— Restaurant owner Jeremy Merrin

"We're terrified.  Sales are down almost down 30% and we don't know what the future holds and we think people are just going to stop going out."

He says they are trying to figure out what to do with their staffing and their finances.

> LIVE BLOG:  CORONAVIRUS LATEST

One of the things that Merrin has already done is talk to his landlord and look for ways to slash expenses.

"The whole idea now is to preserve cash so we can stay in business."

The impact is going to reach all the way down to the lowest-paid staff.  They are going to see their schedules reduced.

The Broadway shutdown is expected to be devastating to the restaurant industry in Manhattan, especially for locations that cater to tourists.

"We've reached the tipping point."

— Restaurant owner Jeremy Merrin

"We've reached the tipping point and I think people are really going to be reluctant to go out to any kind of crowded place," Merrin says.

The restaurants are trying to do things to make the guests who do come out feel safe.

Among the things some restaurants are doing is switching to paper menus that can be disposed of, and hand sanitizers throughout restaurants.

Merrin said he had already planned to install new dishwashers that are better at sanitizing dishes.

He is on the board of the New York City chapter of the state's restaurant association.  He says they had a meeting a few days ago and the news was bleak.

"Manhattan is getting decimated," Merrin said.  "Basically the entire event and catering business has dried up."

The New York State Restaurant Association is planning on holding a webinar on Monday, March 16, to update the coronavirus situation to its members.

If there is one bright spot for restaurants, they are seeing an increase in the delivery business.

"People need to eat," Merrin said.

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