New York City Takes On Indoor Dining

Indoor Dining is Back.

Earlier in the fall, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the prohibition on indoor dining would be lifted on September 30th, marking a major milestone for residents and tourists by showing that the city is slowly crawling back to its normal pace. However, Cuomo’s plan to only reopen indoor dining at a capacity of 25% will do little for the restaurant owners who have been struggling these past six months, fearing an inevitable closure of their establishments.

With the weather beginning to slope into the 60s and 50s and the public’s increasing reluctance to socialize, outdoor dining will soon fade away and the limited capacity of the indoor dining plan will not be enough to support NYC restaurants. In fact, The New York Times reports that outdoor dining isn’t as glamorous as people thought it would be, pulling in much less profits than needed in order for many establishments to survive. 

Is this plan the solution?

And while Mayor Bill de Blasio was optimistic about the return to indoor dining, eager New York City residents shouldn’t expect a speedy return to a pre-covid dining experience. After making a reservation and before entering the restaurant, an indoor diner should anticipate an employee to take your temperature and possibly require you to fill out a waiver to ensure you do not have any Covid-19 symptoms.

While New York is known for cramming as many patrons in a single establishment as possible, so that the stranger that you’re brushing elbows with becomes privy to your personal dinner conversation, now each table will be placed six feet apart from each other. Additionally, your dinner will be timed. Each reservation lasts for 90 minutes, and all dining establishments have a universally mandated closing time of midnight (an extension from the previous 10:30 p.m. curfew).

Thus, indoor dining won’t necessarily bring the reservations needed to keep many restaurateurs afloat. If anything, the benefit of this plan is really for New Yorkers and tourists who feel like outdoor dining is getting too chilly or those who desire a change in their atmosphere. In fact, the benefits to restaurants aren’t certain to last that long given that de Blasio has previously mentioned indoor dining should pause if positive covid tests rise beyond two percent. In the first week of October alone, New York saw a spike in cases that led the average amount of positive tests to reach 3.25 percent.

What this means is that we can’t rely on indoor dining to save restaurants.

The restaurant industry was perhaps the most affected by the coronavirus, with nearly 1300 New York city restaurants closing permanently between March and July. By the time the August rolled around, nine in ten restaurants were unable to pay their rent in the city.

We can look at New Jersey as an example.

The neighboring state has had indoor dining in effect four weeks longer than New York City, and many restaurants are still struggling to keep their doors open. In other words, it is going to take more than a limited capacity reopening plan to make sure that restaurants survive the pandemic.

Here are alternative ways to support restaurants during Covid-19.

  1. Order for pick-up/delivery

Most NYC restaurants worked with delivery apps such as Postmates and GrubHub before Covid, and many of said apps have waived or lowered delivery fees in order to encourage people to order in. Even restaurants that didn’t typically offer take out, such as HALL by ODO, Sushi Ginza Onodera, and Marea, are popping up on popular delivery apps. Many establishments have also redefined their menus, offering catering, family meals, and deli-style takeout.

There are also restaurants who are using take out and delivery as an opportunity to give back to the community and other restaurants that are facing greater struggles. In addition to providing delivery options, Mother of Pearl, Honeybee’s, and Night Music will be giving free vegan lunches to NYC children at their locations. On the other hand, well-known NYC restaurant Gertie has partnered with Olmsted to transform their kitchens into relief centers, using them to pack to-go meals every night for furloughed restaurant workers.

  • Buy gift cards

Investing in a gift card now will serve as a great post-quarantine treat for you and your friends that helps out the restaurants you love in the present time. Many restaurants are offering gift cards to be purchased online and some are even adding perks to those who buy them. For instance, 50% of the proceeds of all gift certificates purchased from Riverpark in the month of April were placed into a staff fund in order to financially support employees.

  • Pick up merchandise

Many idolized New York City restaurants have become a brand in themselves. And with every brand comes merchandise that you can flaunt around the city to prove you know where to get the hottest entrees and appetizers. For instance, the popular pancake parlor, Bubby’s, is also known for its iconic T-shirts. Some restaurants are taking their brand to a whole new level, exemplified best by Dimes’ decision to sell its own skincare and candles. On a more restaurant-related level, many establishments offer cookbooks for purchase, making it easy for you to replicate your favorite meals from the comfort of your own home.

  • Donate to restaurant labor relief funds

There are other ways to use your money besides ordering from your favorite New York City restaurants. The Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation launched a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund to support individual workers facing economic hardship. The fund aims to create zero-interest loans to businesses. The One Fair Wage Emergency Fund’s goal is to provide no-strings-attached cash assistance to tipped workers in the food industry. A grassroots organization, the Service Worker’s Coalition, is collecting funds through Venmo (@bkservicecoalition) to support restaurant workers and deliver groceries to those unable to leave their homes. At the very least, one can make an easy donation to the Street Vendor Project– an organization that helps advocate for the rights of street vendors who are not eligible for unemployment benefits or government support.

  • Write a positive review

This act of kindness is completely free! If you don’t have the funds to dine out, consider leaving a good comment on one of your favorite pre-covid restaurants. A positive Yelp review could help a potential customer pick a restaurant for a reservation, which helps keep your favorite restaurant up and running.

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