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Photograph: Time Out / Ali Garber

How NYC’s restaurant industry is responding to the return of indoor dining

September 30th marks the first time since mid-March that restaurants can welcome guests indoors.

By
Bao Ong
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New York City restaurants crossed a milestone today with the return of indoor dining. The last time diners could be indoors was in mid March before the current crisis rocked the city. But for those who decide they’re comfortable dining out—in a way we once took for granted—there will be differences: tables will be spaced apart for social distancing, many restaurants will require temperature checks and everyone will be required to wear masks. For restaurant owners, they’re limited to filling their dining rooms at 25% capacity for now. Some are more eager to return than others and there are still plenty of lingering questions about safety and the bottom line. Below, we talked with a variety of restaurateurs, chefs and people working to keep the hospitality industry alive.

Richard Berroa, co-owner of Claudy’s Kitchen in Riverdale

Richard Berroa and his wife, Claudia, opened in June with a menu focused on Peruvian empanadas and other specialities like lomo saltado. “We’re excited about anything that brings us back closer to normal,” says Berroa. “We opened during the pandemic, so anything feels like a bonus at this point. We definitely need and want the extra business.”

Jon Neidich, CEO of Golden Age Hospitality of Le Crocodile

“I think 25% is totally not sustainable for restaurants. It’s a good step forward, but I think additional relief is still going to be necessary in order to not see a huge level of attrition out of our industry through the winter and the first quarter of 2021,” says Neidich, whose restaurant group includes the popular Le Crocodile. He also pointed out in an interview with Time Out New York that it’s challenging for restaurants when landlords believe a restaurant at 25% or even 50% capacity is making the same amount of revenue. Neidich adds: “At Le Crocodile, we’re in a really fortunate situation where our partners are great, and the restaurant is doing well, so we’re in no rush. We’re going to make sure we’re doing it the right way and take all the precautions and open up something that’s very thought out.”

Scott Ubert, general manager of Time Out Market New York

"We are ready and excited to welcome guests for indoor dining at Time Out Market New York. This weekend, we invite locals and visitors alike to choose from more than 200 indoor seats and nearly 250 outdoor seats. We have taken various health and safety measures to ensure that diners have an enjoyable experience at the Market," says Ubert. "To prepare, we have increased our air filtration systems, installed partitions for social distancing, placed hand sanitizer stations throughout the Market, launched a Time Out Market app for contactless ordering and pickup, implemented delivery via DoorDash and trained a dedicated cleaning crew to keep our surfaces pristine."
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Satoru Yasumatsu, co-owner of HALL and o.d.o by ODO

“This came earlier than I expected. We had talked about this year possibly not happening at all,” says Yasumatsu, who plans to open indoors on the first day. “It’s just a little small hope for the restaurant industry. We can’t make just 25% of what we used to make. That’s not enough sales for our employees and paying for our necessary expenses. If it continues like this, my next hope is the government will create a new program to support the restaurant industry.”

Max Stampa-Brown, beverage director at Borrachito

“It’s certainly not enough,” says Stampa-Brown, who explained that it’s even tougher for bars to stay afloat.. “Some people are already bending over backwards just to survive.”

Nicki Hamilton, owner / founder of OneSeed 

“I put so much thought into building the space, and I want customers to see it,” says Nicki Hamiton, who had planned to open the fast casual, health-focused OneSeed in April. “It’d be a hard sell when someone hasn’t been inside. It’s like you’ve almost never heard of it if you’ve never been inside.” The Tribeca spot is aiming for a late October opening.

Dave Oz, owner of Bathtub Gin

If Oz’s speakeasy were fully open, there would be 60 seats but outdoor seating only allows for 10 guests at a time. Another challenge? He runs a bar, not a restaurant. “Our hands are tied because we’re not big on food,” says Oz, who has brought in chefs to collaborate with on the food menu. “For me at least, if I can get 10 seats outside and 15 inside. It’s not going to be a complete savior,” Oz says. “We just needed to get this going. We’re not fighting the regulations. We want to follow the rules and make everyone feel comfortable. Just let us start surviving.”

ilili
Photograph: ilili / Katrine Moite

Kimmy Zouki, Director of Brand and Culture for ilili 

As a first reaction, I felt very excited and relieved at the same time. It was like a breath of hope, knowing good news is hard to stumble upon in 2020,” says Zouki. “But the excitement quickly took a backseat once we crunched the numbers on what a 25% capacity would actually mean and realized that there is still not much clarity. ‘Does 25% include staff or not?’ is a simple example. It looks to me more like a captivating headline than a lifeline for the restaurant industry so far. It still does not make sense—neither from an operational perspective nor for re-employment if you get to the bottom of it.”

Patrick Reno, general manager and beverage director at Luthun

“For us, the indoor capacity is the same as our outdoor capacity, so financially nothing is really going to change for us versus what we are doing right now. Having the overlap for 30 days with both indoor and outdoor dining won’t be this giant windfall of business,” says Reno. “If it’s going to remain 25% for the foreseeable future, the government needs to find a way to offer all of us assistance, including our landlords so that we can find long term solutions to this pandemic.”

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