On Thursday, New York City issued a brain-numbing “COVID-19 Dining Update” for restaurants. Among the new rules: Employees would be barred from eating inside any part of the restaurant normally used by patrons. Orders for takeout could only be placed via e-mail or telephone. Most shockingly, patrons dining at a restaurant’s outdoor seating area couldn’t use the restroom inside.
It seemed like Kafkaesque satire for the pandemic age. But no, emblazoned at the top of the notice was the official logo of the Office of the Counsel to the Mayor.
A backlash ensued. Our leaders, full of holiday benevolence, bent just this once and allowed patrons sitting outdoors in 30-degree weather to use restaurant bathrooms. They will now also allow t people to come inside the establishment to place and pick up to-go orders. But only until 10 p.m. — after which time food must be picked up curbside or through a window.
Don’t try too hard to make sense of any of this from a pandemic-fighting perspective. You’ll only give yourself a headache.
The new city diktats are just the latest serving of hell dished out to restaurateurs and their workers by a political class that continues to receive regular paychecks courtesy of taxpayers.
With few exceptions like City Councilman Joe Borelli, few dare state the obvious: that destroying the restaurant industry isn’t going to stop the spread of the coronavirus — and was never going to.
Indeed, on the day Gov. Andrew Cuomo shuttered indoor dining in the Big Apple, he produced a chart that showed restaurants were responsible for only 1.4 percent of the spread. The governor closed the restaurants anyway.
Tina Plagos, owner of three Souvlaki GR restaurants in Manhattan, tells me, “We haven’t had a profit since February and have bought air purifiers, heaters, a ton of extra cleaning supplies, masks, hand sanitizer and have spent thousands to build and rebuild the outdoor seating area.”
It’s the absurdity that enrages: “In Long Island, customers can sit and eat at the bar six feet apart, but in New York City, no one is allowed near the bar. You can’t order a drink at the bar, let alone eat at the bar.”
If restaurants are dangerous, why are they closed only in New York City, not throughout the state? Why are nearly all of our elected officials silent, shivering in their boots rather than taking a stand for the businesses that make our city run? Our restaurant industry is suffering abuse, and the politicos won’t say anything.
Rafi Hasid, owner of the restaurant 1803 in Tribeca and Miriam in Brooklyn and Manhattan, says he has spent at least $10,000 per restaurant to keep up with the constant regulatory shifts.
“In the beginning,” he recalls, “they said they’re going to allow propane heaters. But then they said you can’t have them on the street side or on the outside of the sidewalk. Then they said you can’t keep the propane tanks on your property and must store them at a different location every night. So that was a wasted purchase.”
He continues: “We capsuled the outdoor seating, so every table has its own personal area. The Health Department said it’s good. Then the Fire Department said we need a door, and it should be closed. Then yesterday, we got an e-mail from the city that the door can’t be closed, because the space needs to be open on two sides. We keep investing money but what’s the criteria to open indoor dining again? We have no idea.”
The arbitrary 10 p.m. close time — premised on the ludicrous notion that the virus hunts at night — is particularly crushing. If restaurants have a reservation at 6:30 p.m. that lasts until 8:30, the following reservation either has to have a shortened meal or they can’t take accept it at all.
“Restaurants are mainly family-owned and made up of mainly minorities,” Plagos adds. “They aren’t corporate America. We were living the American dream of working hard and taking care of our families, and now they took that right away from us.”