Local Restaurants: Open For Outdoor Dining, Hopeful For Return Of Customers

Phase Two of New York City’s reopening plan began on Monday, and with it came the new permissions for outdoor dining at the city’s restaurants. Over 4,000 restaurants were approved for the permits to set up seats on sidewalks and take over parking spots adjacent to their businesses, Mayor de Blasio said on Monday.

There are regulations involved on social distancing, closing time of 11:00 pm latest, and no structures other than furniture, ramps, and barriers. We talked to some Brooklyn restaurants to see how they are adapting.

AJ Bontempo, the owner of  Ainslie restaurant in Williamsburg, opened up on Tuesday. Ainslie has a capacity of 120 even with distancing requirements and includes sidewalk, backyard, and roof areas. Still, this is much less than half of their typical occupancy. 

The exterior at Ainslie. Photo courtesy of Ainslie.

“I’m pretty happy to tell you that we’ve had a great response. I’m pleasantly surprised at the response that we’ve had because I did think [that] people we’re going to be a bit more standoffish, but we’re getting hit up on our social media and just walk-by traffic. We’re very excited to be able to resume some semblance of a normal life,” Bontempo said. 

Gerry Reilly, the co-owner of Park Slope’s Lizzie King’s Parlor, says that while they’ve had a similarly positive response, there are some who are still nervous about returning to restaurants.

“It’s pretty mixed. We’ve been open on the weekend [for to-go service] and the people that have been coming in are the same people, the regulars. They do seem a little bit pent up for socializing and human contact, however, there have been some folks that I haven’t seen, that are hesitant to come out,” Reilly said. 

Restaurants are taking lots of extra precautions to ensure the safety of both their staff and guests. Restaurateurs that Bklyner talked to were providing guests with extra masks and gloves, setting up hand sanitizer stations in multiple spots around the restaurant, limiting guests’ time at tables, using disposable menus, providing PPE for their staffs, and cutting out shared plates from their menu, to name a few. 

Bill Zafiros, who owns Ten Hope in Williamsburg, also opened the restaurant on Tuesday. The spot can usually hold 200 people, but they plan on keeping it well below 100 for now. 

The yard at Ten Hope. Courtesy of Ten Hope.

“Our space is already socially distant. You don’t have to walk through the restaurant to get to the garden. All the tables are spread out and it’s open-air dining. We’ve got shade and there’s a natural breeze going through there, so actually it’s really cool out there,” Zafiros said.

Taj Singh, who owns The Castello Plan in Ditmas Park, is also operating at a much smaller margin than normal, but he isn’t worried. 

“I’m positive about it. Quite often we are running at 50% anyways. There’s a few moments in a week when you might hit 80-100%, Friday or Saturday night. Just even [being] able to do 50% is good, given the circumstances that we’re in,” Singh said. 

The bar sits in front of a fire house, which means they aren’t able to use the parking space on the street for extra seating the way several other restaurants are. To combat this, Singh turned his backyard “dumping ground” into a cozy patio. 

“I knocked down the old shed, cleaned out all of the junk, called We Got Junk to pick it all up and take it all away from me. We did it in about six days We built a fence, which I did with a couple members of my staff that have been a great support. They used their personal time to help the restaurant benefit. I got some artificial hedging to cover the fences, make it a bit more tranquil. [There are] lots of potted plants, lots of flowers. It’s a very sweet section, it’s going to be very quiet and cozy,” Singh said. 

Restaurants who cut their staff through the pandemic are now slowly beginning to rehire. Lizzie King’s Parlor is operating with an extremely small crew, around three people, which owner Reilly says contributes to the feeling of safety for now.

“As we phase into more days we hope to bring black a couple members of the team,” Reilly said, adding that he was “not extremely concerned. We are pretty good about being hygienic personally and we clean the place top to bottom every day.” 

Singh was able to rehire much of his staff, and even made a new hire as some members moved back home or found jobs elsewhere. 

Zafiros, who has kids at home, is also prepared to be extra cautious.

 

“We’re conscious of what’s going on, and we’ve all been living this. I’m very aware that I’m going to be around here meeting a lot of new people, and we have to be careful, so that’s how we’re approaching the business. Making sure everybody else is comfortable and careful, at the same time having a really good experience.”

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Ellie Plass

Ellie Plass

Ellie Plass is a food reporter for Bklyner. You can contact her, or send her tips at ellen@bklyner.com.

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