STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Thinking of paying your check at the bar on Staten Island? Don’t even bother. In the new COVID-19 era it’s illegal to sit or even stand near that section of the restaurant. In fact owners so dread closure by city or state officials that they’re sticklers for the rules, especially in light of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Sunday announcement. He proposed closing non-essential businesses, dining at restaurants and schools in nine zip codes in Brooklyn and Queens with high positivity rates.
Exorbitant fines, liquor license suspensions, repeat visits from state and city inspectors, and, worse, outright shutting down of indoor dining has scared most proprietors straight.
Lisa McFarland of O’Henry’s Publick House quipped, “I feel like the COVID police.” She’s stern about the masks with employees and as patrons stand up to use the restroom.
Even in the kitchen rules are strictly enforced.
“It gets very hot over a 400 degree grill. It is difficult. But they do wear them,” said McFarland, who admitted the face coverings could be suffocating in the heat.
When the mayor delivered news that dining indoors was in jeopardy, restaurant owners like herself collectively groaned at the idea of closure.
“If they shut everything down again I don’t think most of the restaurants will survive. We’ve been shut down so long everyone’s just trying to dig out of the hole after the last several months,” said McFarland, adding, “The bills just didn’t go away.”
If someone tries to watch the ball game by getting a little closer to the bar area, McFarland says she’ll guide them back to their seat. She said with a laugh that she’ll tell the guest, “No! Go, sit on the bench,” referring to the pew seating that lines one side of the restaurant.
She said, “You just don’t know. It’s not worth it.”
STEPS TO SHOW COMPLIANCE
While the Department of Health has relaxed its inspection process with a more educational approach to routine visits, the focus has been compliance with social distancing and sanitation. Meticulous records now must be kept on staff and customers with log books detailing temperatures, contact information and bathroom cleanings. And proprietors must now pay mind to ventilation and air filtration details as this is part of curbing the spread of COVID-19.
Because of a “practice run” with outdoor dining since June 22, a hostess at an East Shore restaurant said it’s become second nature to remind mobile guests to “mask up” while anywhere on the premises.
“I have no problem telling customers to put the damned mask on because I’m not going to be the one who’s going to lose our liquor license!” she said.
Pedro Canello at Il Sogno in Annadale also is firm on face coverings. Even when sitting by himself in the restaurant he keeps it on. He’s sincerely concerned about the spread of the virus and will do anything to ensure his dining room can stay open.
Some restaurants have gone a few steps further to ensure not only compliance but to send a message to staff and patrons that the restaurant is a safe place in which to eat. Jody’s in West Brighton uses disposable drink-ware and prominent signage to remind of face coverings. Next door, Mar Mar uses UV lights to help sanitize the dining room. The ground outside the restaurant has been spray-painted to indicate where tables should be placed for six feet of distance between them. It’s insurance that the staff is setting up each day consistently within the six-foot mandates.
Rob DeLuca at DeLuca’s Italian Restaurant in Tottenville installed hand sanitizers in his bathrooms. It’s the law now, but says he’s also being mindful of the guests.
“Whatever I have to do to keep them coming and keep them safe I’m going to do,” he said.
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].