Now, restaurant owners who were operating on the edge fear their businesses might not survive. They say in addition to laying off wait staff, they've also had to cut down on the hours they can stay open.
After 20 long year on 56th Street in Midtown, the Carnegie Club is temporarily shutting down. The loss of indoor dining was the straw that finally broke the camel's back.
"There's really no reason to try to remain open outside, with the winter being so cold," said the bar's Scott Asbury.
While the bar plans to reopen after the pandemic, the New York State Restaurant Association believes 54% of restaurants will not survive the next six months without federal help.
"I think the politicians, they are not fair, to just make a quick decision like this without supporting us," said Georgia Danalis, owner of Bus Stop Cafe.
Back in September Danalis eagerly welcomed back her first indoor dining customer. She hoped capacity limits would expand to 50% by winter. Instead, it's gone in the opposite direction.
"It's very, very sad today, because I feel like we're going backwards instead of going forward," Danalis told CBS2's Christina Fan.
Even though state data suggests only 1.43% of COVID-19 spread comes from bars and restaurants, Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down indoor dining in the city. He cited rising infection rates and increased hospitalizations.
Danalis said she trusts the governor has the public's best interests in mind, but added local leaders can't expect small businesses to survive without help.
"I think the politicians, they are not fair to just make a quick decision like this, without supporting us," she said.
With indoor dining gone, restaurants are rushing to winterize and build outdoor dining spaces. But, there are concerns over how much ventilation the structures provide.
According to the city Department of Transportation's website, structures must have at least two walls open. If three or more walls are in use, the structure must follow indoor dining guidelines.
Jack Legg, who has helped many restaurants with construction, says the restrictions are nearly impossible to follow.
"This cold time in New York, to have a structure that is both sides open and have heating coming down, the heating doesn't stay in. You need at least three walls," said Legg.
The shutdown forced already cash-strapped restauranteurs to make more adjustments in an attempt to stay alive.
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At Palma, Pierre Bree just ordered heat lamps for his outdoor dining space. He's also converting the front of his restaurant into a shop that sells cooking kits and other small trinkets.
Bree said the constant restriction changes are both financially and emotionally draining.
"It's very scary. We just have to find ways to keep ourselves alive, it's just about staying alive," he said.
With cold weather and snow forecast this weekend, restaurants wonder how many customers will even venture outside to dine outdoors and whether it's even worth the heating costs.
Some customers, like Ken Fishman, refused to give up on the city he loves.
"I'll wear a coat. I'll have my glasses fogged up from the cold, but I've got to try to hang in there with these places as much as I can to give them help," he said.
To make matters worse, the Department of Sanitation has said it may issue a snow alert Wednesday, which means outdoor dining would be prohibited. If there's more than a foot of snow, entire structures would have to be removed or consolidated.
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