Restauranteurs cheered the reopening of indoor dining on Wednesday, even at 25% capacity, after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week that they would move carefully towards higher capacities depending on COVID-19 infection rates.
While most restaurant owners are happy to be moving in “the right direction,” all will have to adhere to strict guidelines as they reopen. Diners will have their temperatures checked at the door and must wear masks when they are not at their table.
At least one patron in the party will have to provide their contact information for contact tracing should someone be exposed to COVID-19.
Tables at restaurants must also be at least six feet apart. Restaurants can’t offer bar service, meaning bars can only be used to make drinks to be served tableside, and must close at midnight.
Reopened restaurants will also have to have enhanced air filtration, ventilation and purification standards, and all restaurants must comply with all state-issued guidance. Outdoor dining remains an option even as indoor dining resumes.
Despite the tough standards, restaurateurs in the famous Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn fishing wharf are prepared to do what must be done to comply with the rules and earn enough to stay in business.
Mustafa Boz, manager at Opera Café on Emmons Avenue, already had customers eating indoors by midday.
“Today’s our first day and I hope it’s getting better. We are doing the 25% [capacity], and we are just trying to do our best,” said Boz, whose restaurant hosts a large outdoor dining area popular in the bay area. “It does help because when it is cold or rainy, we cannot use outside. It helps because some people just don’t want to sit outside. I hope it will get better and people stay healthy and we can get to 50 percent soon because we have the spaces.”
Further down the block on Emmons Avenue, Randazzo’s Clam Bar and Restaurant, a family-owned business for more than 80 years, is ready for indoor customers.
“It’s been miserable not to see customers in here just for take out and on the side of the restaurant,” said Rosemary Randazzo, owner of the restaurant, which her husband’s grandmother started and was later passed to her daughter. She operates the restaurant also with her five children.
“It’s working out okay, the best it can be,” she added. “We just had a few people in here, we took their temperature, we take their phone number for tracking purposes and so far, people are okay with it and are following the rules. I guess it’s the best we could be doing, but yes, we do need this.”
Peter Katsichtis, owner of Yiasou Restaurant, a popular Greek cuisine eatery in Sheepshead Bay, said it’s “at least moving in the right direction.”
“I love it, I wish it could be more – weekdays, okay, but we need the parties – I know we cant have it,” said Katsichtis while standing in his empty eatery. “The maximum 25% is not enough, so I wish soon we can at least get to 50% will happen. The outdoor dining was okay in the summertime, but it is not enough. We lost all the parties, and outdoor dining had to end at 11 o’clock, we had to take everything out. That wasn’t enough time – two hours. Hopefully soon, we will be open more than that.”
He said he doesn’t understand why the restaurants must be closed, but he added, “Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. But it’s killing the city.”
While indoor dining starts, the city’s Open Restaurants Initiative, which allows for restaurants to serve customers on sidewalk and curb space, will be made permanent.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the extension of outdoor dining last week, with outdoor dining to be permitted year-round.
Restaurants can now extend their seating past the front of adjacent storefronts if neighboring businesses agree to it. Restaurants that want to better heat outdoor dining spaces by enclosing so may do so but must keep capacity at 25%. Conversely, restaurants or bars that want to host outdoor dining open in winter must keep spaces “more open” to allow for better airflow, the mayor said last week.
Outdoor dining, which started in response to the coronavirus pandemic, was set to end on Oct. 31. Last month, de Blasio said that the program would restart in June of next year amid repeated calls from restaurant owners to turn the program into a permanent fixture.
Unfortunately, some restaurants have closed their doors permanently, several noted bars have also closed their doors as they are not set up to serve food and rely on indoor drinking. It’s unclear exactly how many businesses have closed in the six months since the pandemic reached New York City but some estimate that over 1,000 bars and restaurants have permanently closed since March.
Those establishments that have repeated or egregious violations could result in the loss of a restaurant’s license to operate. Gov. Cuomo noted last week that indoor seating could go up to 50% in New York City in November. If New York City hits 2% in COVID-19 positivity rates, the City will immediately reassess.