The Start of Indoor Dining: Will it Ever Be as Safe as Before?

Yuying Wang ‘23

On Wednesday, September 23, 2020, Governor of New York City Andrew Cuomo announced that indoor dining will be allowed to start up again the following week, September 30, 2020. Quarantine having been imposed for months on end, the return of indoor dining is a huge step towards New York City’s recovery and a critical moment for restaurant industries who have been struggling in the face of a global pandemic that completely devastated their businesses. 


Up until Governor Cuomo’s legendary decision on Wednesday, an astounding 25,000 restaurants throughout the region of New York City have been forbidden from allowing patrons to dine inside. Operating at only a fraction of what they were before, they could only provide takeout options. Even when policymakers introduced setting up outdoor dining systems, this was not a route that all restaurants could take due to location concerns in the crowded sidewalks New York City is known for. Because of an exponential decrease in their incomes, restaurant businesses have had no choice but to let some employees go or, even worse, shut down forever. These were all aspects that played a role in the decline of re-opening of restaurant businesses, making it even more difficult for owners to continue on. 


While indoor dining is planned to start on Wednesday, September 30, 2020, Governor Cuomo and the health initiative have implemented many safety precautions in which all restaurant businesses have to partake. Restaurants will begin opening at 25 percent capacity with tables spread at least six feet apart; the strict guidelines demand that all restaurants have to close by midnight. Enhanced air ventilation has been implemented, allowing fresh air from outside to circulate within the confined space. Employees will also have to abide by multiple rules as well, upgrading their masks to a more advanced type; specifically, they will need ones with air filtration. When walking into a restaurant, customers’ temperatures have to be checked before coming in, and before being seated, everyone is mandated to wear a mask. For tracing purposes, one member of each party is required to record their contact information. Throughout all of this, outdoor dining will still remain an alternative that customers can opt for if they so desire.


Nonetheless, restaurant businesses are still optimistic about the return of indoor dining. Melissa Fleischut, President and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association speaks out that, “Today’s announcement comes at a pivotal time for the restaurants in New York City, and we would like to thank Governor Cuomo for…We will happily work with relevant governmental agencies and hospitality partners to help ensure that all restaurants in New York City understand the rules.”[1] Fleischut elaborates on how by making this decision, it allows many restaurants to start on their road back to having customers again, a change from when they were forced to close their doors. Many restaurant owners agree with her, excited to bring back the normal if they are capable of doing so. 


Although many individuals are happy to be back to indoor dining this week, the concern of safety is still a priority. Having seen the population dwindle to such miniscule numbers due to this virus, people are still not ready to go back; rather, they plan on staying outside for a while when it comes to outdoor activities in general. In fact, restaurant owners have only received reservations from a couple people. The majority of New York City residents are still in a their cautious mindset. Since New Jersey has already been re-installing the practice of indoor dining for three weeks, New York City will also learn from our procedures. 


Owners acknowledge that “the business will take years to recover. But if we can keep it afloat in a way that we won’t be hurting or closing the business, it’s better.”[3] Experiencing an unprecedented event in history, it is important for everyone to stay positive during these times.