What It's Like To Eat Inside At A New York City Restaurant Now

Posted: Sep 30, 2020

As I approached the hostess stand at The Odeon, I got asked a question I hadn’t heard in awhile: “Would you like inside or out?”

It was 1 p.m. on September 30, the day New York City restaurants reopened indoor dining for the first time since March. It’s a pandemic milestone, and a sign that the city is recovering a key part of its culture. (Across the five boroughs, 76 restaurants hold a Michelin Star or more—although, if you ask any New Yorker, their favorite joint probably doesn’t have one.) Yet it’s possible this triumph will be fleeting: Mayor DeBlasio has said if infection rates rose above 2 percent, he’d immediately reassess the indoor-dining decision. The day before, New York saw a COVID spike due to clusters in Brooklyn and Queens.

“In,” I replied, following the masked maitre d’ with both apprehension and optimism. But before I could take a seat, a barrier to entry: “If you could just take your temperature,” she asked, pointing to a forehead scanner hung on the wall. (All restaurants must take temperature checks of patrons before service.)

Right now, they can operate at 25 percent occupancy inside. That's frankly not a lot of tables. But, combined with expanded outdoor seating, which will now be permitted all year round, it will provide a much-needed financial boost to the suffering restaurant industry. (Some smaller restaurants, such as Short Stories on Bowery, are even making their indoor areas available for private parties and large groups.) I was pleasantly surprised to see that, including myself, five groups were seated, all spaced out way farther than six feet apart. On each table was a little card: “When not eating or drinking, please wear your mask when interacting with staff. Thank you in advance!”

My server came up to the table. “Would you like still or sparkling,” she started to say, before an abrupt pause. “Oh! I gotta fill something out for you first.” She then proceeded to ask, and write down, my full name, telephone number, and email on her notepad. I’d been wondering about this part: unlike outdoor diners, indoor diners need to consent to contact tracing. That seemed hard to enforce: would there be a piece of paper you needed to fill out? Some app you’d need to sign up for? Turns out, the process was basically the same as taking an order. One cheeseburger, and email address, please!

My soup came and I slurped it down, good as I remembered. I looked out the window at The Odeon’s outdoor seating. Every table was filled with lounging patrons, basking in the late September sun, many with a martini in hand. My waiter came up to me. “Thank you so much for coming. We’re so excited for you to be here,” she said. I smiled back. “I am, too.”

By Elise Taylor
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