According to a new study from the reservation platform OpenTable, seated reservations at Manhattan restaurants were down more than 60% in January 2022 compared to January 2020.
"The last two years — it's very hard for us to survive," said Raffaele Volpe, the manager and pizza chef of San Matteo on Manhattan's Upper East Side. It's an Italian spot known for its Neapolitan pizza, where Volpe said business dropped to a new low in just a few weeks after the omicron variant started to spread. On Dec. 16, reservations fell from 120 people to 12, he said.
"The city's restaurant industry has just been absolutely devastated," NYC Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie said. He said he believes the city's vaccination requirements are partly to blame for the decline in restaurant bookings, in addition to a long list of other factors.
"I'm in Midtown Manhattan and office buildings are practically empty," Rigie said. "So restaurants that rely on office workers have been hit really hard, restaurants that rely on tourists have been hit really hard and just general foot traffic is down."
Only San Francisco and Cambridge, Massachusetts, are faring worse than Manhattan, according to the study.
In Westchester County, business is also tough for Alvin Clayton. He said the majority of customers at his spot, Alvin and Friends Restaurant in New Rochelle, are generally very COVID-cautious, so they're dining out less. He also chooses to require proof of vaccine to enter.
"We are in that area where it's kind of wait and see right now, but it's definitely down from what it used to be," Clayton said. "We had omicron and people started feeling very unsafe again and so reservations went down tremendously."
But across New Jersey and Long Island, a lot of reservations have actually been on the rise. James Mallios owns several restaurants, including Calissa in the Hamptons. He said the increase is due to more New Yorkers staying out east instead of returning to the city, in addition to other reasons.
"We saw an uptick in à la carte dining in Suffolk County because in the air there's less concern about COVID there, there are less mandates, it's less part of an everyday existence," Mallios said. "You're not getting checked for your vax cards at every business you go into."
Gregory Kane oversees operations at several restaurants in both Jersey City and Edgewater in New Jersey. All of them are on the water. He spoke to us from one of his spots called Pier 115, which hasn't only seen an uptick in business, but a boom in business. The restaurant saw its highest sales ever last year in 2021.
"On the New Jersey side of the river, we have had some more relaxed COVID regulations — we have not had mask mandates or vaccine mandates for the restaurants," Kane said. "And with being so well-positioned on the waterfront, we've been able to capture a lot of business from across the river as well as from within New Jersey."
While it's encouraging to hear positive pandemic stories from the suburbs, owners of restaurants in the city say warmer weather and a return to outdoor dining can't come soon enough.