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Indoor Dining Resumes At New York City Restaurants, Gov. Cuomo Extends Curfew Statewide

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It's another step towards normalcy.

New York City restaurants are welcoming diners back inside for the first time in months Friday.

Indoor dining resumed at 25% capacity.

"Twenty five percent is not great," said LInda Solomon, co-owner of Jasmine's Caribbean Cuisine.

As CBS2's Dave Carlin reports, Solomon lugged supplies in Jasmine's Caribbean Cuisine on West 46th Street. Solomon had hoped she could get more tables and allow more people inside.

Now capacity indoors is set at 25%, and before the weekend is over, hours get extended from the current 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., beginning Sunday.

The closing time change was announced Friday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a statewide, with New York City included, gift effective Valentine's Day, Sunday.

"Anything that can bring in more business and help our workers," Solomon said.

"I'm so glad to be inside because it's so cold," said Chelsea diner Richard Boh.

"I missed it and I'm excited," a diner named Kenya said.

"I think it's way overdue," said another.

A decline in the COVID-19 positivity rate and hospitalizations is why Cuomo eased restrictions, but he stopped short of extending the restaurant hours to midnight, which many restaurant owners were pushing for.

Victor Dedushaj hopes the second reopening of Benjamin Prime Steakhouse proves to be lucky.

"We hope this is the ultimate, here to stay now, light at the end of the tunnel, vaccine's here, numbers are going down," the director of operations said.

Like all New York City bars and restaurants, the Murray Hill steakhouse had to suspend operations for a second time in December as COVID rates soared.

"If this happens again, devastation will be complete," said Dedushaj. "So hard to pay the bills with only outdoor seating."

"You appreciate it more now I think than you ever did before," Pelham resident Tom Einberger said.

The city has recorded its lowest seven-day average positivity rate since the end of December. So many hope indoor dining is here to stay.

"I'm so glad to be inside, because it's so cold, and it's going to be great for the business owners," said Chelsea resident Richard Boh.

Many restaurant owners said just because indoor dining has resumed, that doesn't mean their outdoor dining structures will go away. Instead, they will be used for spillover customers after reaching indoor capacity.

"A lot of people don't want to come inside, they prefer outside, they want to sit out there, they feel more safe," the manager at Chelsea Square Restaurant told CBS2's John Dias.

Under the new rules, Chelsea Square Restaurant can only allow about 40 people inside. So the manager understands why others are pushing for 50% capacity, but he's happy he at least has this.

"It's better than nothing," he said. "As long as everybody keeps healthy -- all the customers, all the employees -- 25% is good to start."

With the rules still different in New York City compared to the rest of the state, there is still confusion. You have roadways that are dividing lines, like Jericho Turnpike - with Nassau County on one side and Queens on another.

That gives places like Nancy's Restaurant a competitive disadvantage.

"I have a Nassau County ZIP Code but I'm just city line," said Nancy's owner Victoria Four.

Four has suffered with no indoor dining allowed at Nancy's Restaurant, while on the other side of the line Michael Maguire could seat people inside at his Trinity Restaurant and Bar. Now he's at 50%, while she gets the 25%.

"Nancy's was in a tough position than us and a few of the other businesses, and we all tried to support her," said Trinity Restaurant owner Michael McGuire.

"It's tough but we're all getting to a better place now," Four said.

Outdoor dining setups are not going anywhere, because there are still people not comfortable enough to go back inside just yet.

A spokesperson said Cuomo is open to changing capacity limits depending on infection rates.

John Dias contributed to this report. 

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