On March 17, Gov. Andrew Cuomo implemented a statewide last call for bars and restaurants — and the Big Apple’s famed dining scene ground to a screeching halt.
Hordes of employees, from waitresses to chefs, were forced head for the unemployment line as restaurant owners struggled to keep the lights on with takeout and delivery-only constraints.
As the coronavirus crisis begins to wane, stir-crazy New Yorkers are hungry to know when and how the city’s array of eateries and bars will make a comeback — and what the “new normal” for going out to eat and drink in the city will look like.
Here’s what the experts say.
When will NYC restaurants reopen?
Under Cuomo’s reopening guidelines, New York City will have to meet seven COVID-19 benchmarks before it can even think about opening restaurants, which isn’t allowed until phase three of the four-step plan.
If the five boroughs meet those benchmarks by June 1, it will be a bare minimum of six weeks before the city can enter phase three, which brings the earliest possible date for restaurant re-openings to mid-July.
“I am so hopeful for July,” said Austin Publicover, who runs the consulting business Bulletproof! Food Safety and advises over 600 restaurants, many of which are eager to reopen. “You tell us to open Friday, we’ll be there Thursday as the clock [strikes] midnight.”
During a recent call with the city’s top restauranteurs, Mayor Bill de Blasio discussed potentially reopening restaurants in three separate stages, ending with a full reopening after Labor Day, Eater reported Wednesday.
The mayor’s office did not confirm the outlet’s reporting.
Restaurant consultant Donny Evans expects re-openings just as early, but doesn’t think it’ll be economically feasible for many until September or even October — especially if capacity is restricted.
“There’s a lot of restaurant owners [and] chefs who didn’t have a lot of money in the bank after weeks of furloughing folks, how will they open and how will they operate at 50 percent? You can’t.” Evans said.
While he said limiting capacity is “the correct thing to do from the public health standpoint,” he’s not sure how long restaurateurs will be able to last under those conditions.
“There will be a lot of hopeful restaurateurs going back into this and the profits aren’t going to be there the way they were pre-COVID and they will have to shutter as a result. I think there will be a big upswing and then a rapid decline,” he said.
Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, echoed those comments, adding that even though the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program loans are designed to encourage openings right after June 30, he thinks August is more realistic.
“I imagine restaurants will open first. People can be spaced apart. Bars and nightclubs will be more challenging,” he said.
What will the ‘new normal’ look like for NYC’s restaurant and bar scene?
Seating limits, disposable menus, salad bar monitors and fast-paced music will all be on the table as eateries and bars stagger back to normalcy, according to official and experts.
“When you think about what we were used to just a few months ago with restaurants and bars and everyone’s super close together and it’s part of the energy we love about this city, that’s not happening right away to say the least,” de Blasio told reporters on May 7.
He said face coverings and gloves will likely be part of the new normal, along with an emphasis on al fresco dining where possible.
Dr. Randy Worobo, a food safety expert and professor at Cornell University, said it’ll be necessary to do daily health checks with staff to make sure they haven’t been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 or aren’t displaying symptoms themselves. That could also extend to patrons — with signage advising anyone who is symptomatic to stay out, he added.
Barry Dry, who runs Parched Hospitality Group, is already preparing for specific changes he’ll implement once it’s safe to reopen.
“We will have social distancing. Staff will have temperature checks, disposable cutlery, highly sanitized work spaces,” Dry said.
He said customers could act as their own food runners and pick up their meals from a “separate table” to limit contact and exposure, because it’s not possible for a waiter to remain six feet away while delivering food.
In order for patrons to enjoy their drinks and meals without having to wrestle with a face covering, all staff will have to wear one.
If capacity is limited, Dry said the three-hour long, candle-lit dinners of the pre-coronavirus world won’t come back for a while, because “higher turnover” will be necessary so restauranteurs can eke out a profit.
He plans to do that by blasting fast-tempo music.
“[The] music you play increases or decreases the time people spend,” the foodie explained.
Rigie said there will be more “contactless mobile payments, disposable menus” and “mobile menus” where diners can order directly from their phones to reduce the amount of surfaces diners have to touch.
Melissa Fleischut, the president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said self-service operations like coffee bars and buffets will also see major changes.
“The new normal would be the coffee station serving you coffee instead of you serving yourself,” Fleischut said. “Buffets, too. You would have somebody stand there and serve you from the buffet instead of you serving yourself and touching all those spoon handles.”
At places like a salad bar, Fleischut said to expect line monitors who’ll be policing social distancing and making sure everyone “everyone is doing their part.”
Some restaurants are ditching servers all together — the creator of Brooklyn Chop House told The Post he is planning a dumpling shop with the kind of Automat vending machines that became popular after the Spanish flu.
Another major change restaurateurs and New Yorkers alike should expect is a drop in customers overall, regardless of seating capacity.
“I think they’re going to have to be convinced, both by the health experts in the country, the CDC, the New York City health department, that it’s safe to go back out,” Fleischut said.
“I’m in the restaurant business. I’m not sure I want to go out for dinner, forget about the six feet thing, but waiters in masks… I’d rather have dinner at home,” Evans added.
On the upside, at least foodies won’t have to worry about contracting the virus through a meal itself, Worobo said.
“It’s an enveloped virus and once it’s ingested, the acidity in the stomach quickly inactivates the microorganism,” the scientist explained.