Nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, New York restaurant owners are facing deepening challenges to their business and bottom lines, a survey released this weekend by the New York State Restaurant Association found. 

There's been a decline in customer demand for many restaurants, while sales have also decreased. Costs, meanwhile, have increased over the last year. Reduced hours of operation have become the norm for many operators. 

The most recent winter surge of the omicron variant of COVID-19 has made life even more complicated for restaurant owners as the industry is seeking additional aid for struggling businesses this year. 

But it also comes as New York state lawmakers are once again considering allowing alcohol to go — seen as a key lifeline for the industry during the early stages of the pandemic — which is now backed by Gov. Kathy Hochul. 

“It has been nearly two years since we entered this devastating pandemic and still the restaurant industry continues to grasp for consistent aid. The results of this survey are a mere reflection of the restaurants that are suffering with no promise of better days," said Melissa Fleischut, the president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association. Actions need to be taken. Replenishing the Restaurant Relief Fund will keep restaurant operators and businesses afloat and new revenue streams from alcohol-to-go will go a long way to help restaurants continue service.” 

The group's survey found 86% of the 335 responding restaurant operators see business conditions worse now than they were three months ago, while 74% have seen declining sales volume compared to 2019. Total costs are up compared to December 2020, according to 81% of respondents. 

A large majority, 95%, said they sought Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants in order to hire back workers, but did not receive the money. A similar number of operators, 96% of those surveyed, agreed that grant funding would make it more likely for them to stay in business during the crisis. 

It's estimated an initial round of funding from the grants is estimated to have saved 95,000 jobs in the industry.

“Facts and numbers only paint part of the picture. But the reality is clear—New York restaurants are at the end of their line and unraveling quickly," Fleischut said. "We need help and we need it now. We call on Congress and our elected officials to consider the beloved restaurants in their communities and those across the state. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund, in addition to efforts like alcohol-to-go, will give businesses a chance at making a successful recovery. As New York forges ahead our leaders must consider the industries that drive it."