It’s almost been a year since staff at Mojitos restaurant in Queens have been able to fill their indoor dining area to 35% capacity.
Since the return of indoor dining, earlier this year, they’ve been limited to 25% capacity.
“This is amazing, not only for us but for our customers as well. Customers will have an option right now. If they would like to sit outside and it’s a beautiful day, they can sit outside. If it’s a chilly day, a rainy day, we are going to have the option to sit them indoors,” said Marcos Muñoz, the owner of Mojitos on Northern Blvd.
Before the increase to 35%, which went into effect February 26, COVID capacity restrictions on New York City restaurants never increased above 25%.
At one point, in late 2020, owners had hoped indoor dining capacity would increase to 50%, but that never happened in the five boroughs.
“Increasing indoor occupancy from 25 to 35 percent is a step in the right direction but when you speak to restaurateurs, they will tell you they desperately need 50%, like restaurants throughout the rest of New York State have had since back in June. But it also desperately needs to be coupled with rent relief because there’s no way these small businesses owners are going to be able to pay back multiple months of missed rent nor are they going to be able to pay back 100% of pre-pandemic rents anytime soon,” said Andrew Rigie of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.
While not yet 50%, the increase to 35% capacity has given Muñoz the confidence he needed to bring back more employees and give others more hours.
He’s also hired a new indoor dining hostess.
At her old job, Alison Koria had been struggling to make ends meet because of COVID related cuts, that she said started in the fall.
“I used to have like 40 hours, so after that every month it was lower to 26 hours, 18 hours, 15 hours,” said Koria.
Even with the expansion of indoor dining, outdoor dining is still a hit with Mojitos’ customers.
“If I’m hungry, hey, the food is good why not sit outside? As long as they give me a little heat I’m good,” said diner Jose Ortega.
Muñoz spent a lot of time and money putting together the elaborate outdoor dining area at Mojitos.
His only apprehension about that now is the future of these structures as indoor dining continues to make a comeback.
He said he hopes that they’ll be allowed to keep both.
“Hopefully, they dont take away our opportunity to make our money back. Hopefully, they will leave that forever,” Muñoz said.
In September 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that outdoor dining would be allowed to continue year round.