From Face Masks to Table Barriers: What Dining in New York Will Look Like When the City Reopens

Martin Lerma

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New York City may have begun the first phase of its reopening schedule, but if you’re planning on dining out, don’t expect things to go back to normal any time soon.

New York state has released more details relating to guidelines for restaurants as the metropolis begins to bustle once more. And they are, expectedly, pretty stringent. Regardless of size, no dining establishments can be filled beyond 50 percent capacity. Even outdoor dining area capacity is effectively capped as all tables must be placed at least six feet apart in all directions. Where that distancing is not possible, physical barriers at least five feet in height are mandatory.

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When it comes to face masks, both customers and employees will be required to wear the coverings at all times save for when diners are seated. And patrons seated at the same table must be part of the same party, though there can be no more than 10 people seated together at one time. Plus, the standard six-foot distance must be properly maintained in any space where customer lines may form––whether at the register or at the entrance to restrooms. These rules apply to food trucks, too.

Gone will be the evenings of waiting in cramped quarters hoping for a table at a hot West Village bistro. Those conditions are simply not permitted under the new regulations. And with a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus that created a global pandemic not expected before the beginning of next year at the very earliest, at least some of these could still be in place at the beginning of 2021.

But patrons aside, it will also be an enormous adjustment for restaurant workers, particularly those who work in the back of the house. Restaurant kitchens are notoriously cramped, and some cooks work practically shoulder to shoulder to fulfill a stream of orders. However, according to the new rules, even in-person staff meetings will have to be severely cut back and though not mandatory, recommended best practices like staying six feet away from one another in the kitchen will prove difficult.

It also remains unclear just how many customers restaurants will see. Where states have reopened more aggressively, reports show business to be slow. And with these new standards in place, establishments will have to turn over tables quickly so, like so many other things, the days of lingering at brunch may be behind us.

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