Plastic Igloos For Two, Subzero Heaters And Now Vaccines: How New York Restaurants Have Adapted To Strict Rules To Control The Pandemic

Dining in a plastic igloo or in a plexiglass and wood cabin in the middle of the sidewalk while the streets of New York are covered in snow is part of the new reality of the city. After months of closure, the interior spaces have just reopened with a maximum capacity of 25%, but the exteriors are still the main space for eating and drinking in the city.

“We wanted to create an oasis so that New Yorkers, who have suffered and struggled during the pandemic, can escape for a little vacation and feel as if they have been transported to the Mediterranean, specifically Egypt,” says the owner of House le femme, Medhat Ibrahim, who has covered the terrace of his local with plants, paper lamps, garlands of lights and heaters.


Ibrahim notes that the rules for what kind of structures could be built on the sidewalks “were not necessarily clear.” “We have chosen to keep the front open. I didn’t want to force my staff into a closed, unventilated room, and I didn’t know if we could perfectly disinfect after each client. In addition, we built it quite high, because we wanted the air to circulate, despite the fact that having made a lower ceiling would have kept the space warmer ”, he emphasizes from the sidewalk of his premises, where you can still see the snow that has left the last storm.

The owner of House la femme He boasts that his customers can eat in short sleeves if they want, since 6,000 watt heaters hang from his terrace.

“Of course it was expensive. Everything in New York City is expensive. And it was also difficult to find heaters, since all the restaurants were struggling to get hold of several and they were no longer available in the market, ”Ibrahim emphasizes, adding that another problem was finding a system to deliver electricity.

Stephen Werther, one of the owners of Supreme Provisions, explains that his restaurant has chosen to go from having “bubbles”, species of plastic igloos for two, to “cabins”, plexiglass cubes that can fit a maximum of four people, since the terraces on the sidewalks or in reserved parking spaces will be allowed in the city for at least one year.

Unlike Ibrahim, Werther’s restaurant, which has access to both Seventh Avenue and Bleecker Street, has opted for the option of offering private spaces, completely closing its outdoor areas and disinfecting the place between customers. “Both the city and the state of New York fell short of their guidelines. They indicated what we could not do, but what they should have told us is what we could build ”, says the chef.

Another of the structures that have become popular are the enclosed porches around the premises. Like the one who has built Planted, a restaurant that, according to its waitress Autumn Reeves, in summer had holes in the plywood walls to ensure greater ventilation, but that with the arrival of the freezing winter were covered with glass windows.

“We try to keep the windows open, but if customers complain about the cold, we close them,” explains the young woman, who also indicates that what they never close is the door, since for this space to be considered as exterior it has to have ventilation.

Starting this Friday, New York authorizes restaurants to open at 25% of their capacity, thus giving a second chance to eat indoors. In September of last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo allowed restaurants to reopen at 25% and 13 weeks later, in mid-December, the experiment came to a sudden halt amid rising infection rates and fears of further transmission. during the holidays


Thus, New York managed to control the pandemic since the spring and has had lower rates of incidence, hospitalizations and mortality than other large cities and most of the United States.

Epidemiologists and Public Health Experts have criticized the decision to reopen the interior spaces, albeit with very limited capacity, due to the health risk, especially in light of the new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus.

“We have no reservations left for February 14, inside or outside,” says Werther. House la femme Y Planted they also have several reservations for this romantic evening. In any case, inside, the capacity is limited to 25%.

Good news for the restaurant community is that New York bartenders and cooks are on the list of essential workers who can get the vaccine. “I have already had the first vaccine. I am the first to receive her at the restaurant. The chef wants us all to get vaccinated because it is now available to people who work in the industry. I got mine last week. I was super excited, but it took me a long time to get the appointment, ”says Reeves.

However, according to restaurant owners, not all their employees are as willing to receive COVID-19 vaccines as some prefer that the limited doses go to people at risk.

The pandemic has also increased the delivery of food at home, but not all locals find that option convenient. Werther explains that pasta, one of his star dishes, does not “travel well.” While Ibrahim, stresses that “economically it does not make much sense.” “Delivery services keep 30% of your income. So you are operating with a 10% profit ”.

Franklin Sandoval, who started work this week at Planted As part of the reinforcement team for the reopening of the interior, he says that after the restaurant he used to work closed closed, he dedicated himself to delivering food on his bicycle. “With the pandemic, the number of delivery men also increased. So there may be more delivery, but you will not have more orders because there are more people to receive them ”, explains this 24-year-old Venezuelan who says that on a normal day by distributing food you can earn an average of 150 or 200 dollars (125 and 165 euros) in tips and that on a snowy day, by bicycle, the sum rises to 300 or 400 dollars (250 and 330 euros) and 600 dollars (about 500 euros) if the delivery man goes by car.

During this year of restrictions on businesses, the city uses tips as a “thank you.” “New York was very supportive of the restaurants that stayed open. Although many of the New Yorkers have left the city and there are no tourists, the community that stayed really made an effort to support local businesses ”, highlights the chef of Supreme Provisions.

Werther also notes that another key factor that kept him going when all he could sell was take-out cocktails and snacks was a “very fair rent reduction throughout the entire period” from the building owner. Cut that Ibrahim also enjoys.

However, not all stores have been able to survive this crisis, which is why more and more empty stores appear with the “for sale” or “for rent” sign hanging from their windows.



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