The tightrope walk between public health and economic reality continues for Hyde Park-Kenwood's restaurants as they begin to offer indoor dining, albeit at just 25% of capacity.
Reaction had been mixed when the policy was announced on June 19. At Valois, 1518 E 53rd St., John Lathouris said the cafeteria needs at least 50% capacity, which he said could be done safely. "What are we going to do with 25%?" he asked, saying the restaurant would be better off takeout-only.
But the restaurant was serving customers indoors on June 26 for the first time since March.
Frank Grassano at Nella Pizza e Pasta, 1125 E. 55th St., touted new high Plexiglass divisions between booths in his dining room, designed to contain customers' respiration, alongside hand sanitizer at each table and the reduced capacity. "With outside opening and now inside opening, the customer gets to choose where he would like to sit," he said.
Nella only has two chefs on the line, and Grassano said they have paper towels, sanitizer and masks at their disposal; servers have similar personal protective equipment and sanitizer. "We're doing everything that the state and the city are telling us to do," he said.
While the restaurant lacks a sick leave policy for all illnesses, though employees can take vacation time to recover, workers experiencing coronavirus symptoms can stay home and get paid until they are tested, Grassano said.
"The government has issued a sick leave policy: if they get sick with COVID, they give us the documentation, we give it to our payroll company," he explained. "The payroll company sends it over to the government, and there's a tax write-off for us for paying our employees. There's no harm done, so then it comes on the back end with the payroll tax."
Grassano said everything since the resumption of outdoor dining on June 3 has been going great — even during the initial shutdown, when Nella was only offering carryout, no staff got laid off, and he and his co-owner wife, the restaurant's namesake, still made a small profit.
"When the weather's nice, people have been coming out and supporting, sitting down and having a great dinner. On the economic side, it's going to be better for the restaurant the more seats you have," he said. "Even if you do 25% outside and 25% inside, it's a great addition."