When New York State cleared Westchester County restaurants for phased reopening, Brian Doyle, co-owner of J.P. Doyle’s bar and restaurant in Sleep Hollow, was prepared to move quickly.
“When you get the keys to the car, you want to be ready to drive away,” he says. “We knew we had to make customers and employees feel safe, so we had been procuring stuff that we needed to do that.”
Dale Talde, chef and co-owner [with wife Agnes Talde] of Goosefeather restaurant in Tarrytown, describes his mixed emotions about reopening.
“Of course,” he explains, “you are happy to be able to reopen. Then you realize how daunting it is.”
SPACE IS KEY
“We are lucky we have a lot of space,” says John DeChiaro, owner of St. George Restaurant, a Mohegan Lake establishment, with its own wine label, located in a converted 110-year old stone church on the National Register of Historic Places.
DeChiaro says finding adequate space to safely serve patrons is probably the biggest challenge facing most restaurants now. “Fortunately, we can accommodate a lot of people, and still maintain social distancing.”
At Goosefeather, located in The King Mansion at the Tarrytown House Estate with multiple terraces, Chef Talde echoes the sentiment. “We are blessed to have outdoor space,” he says. The exterior seating area allows Goosefeather to meet or exceed the NYS guidelines. It also adds to the comfort level of patrons. “A lot of people are still not comfortable dining inside,” he adds.
Brian Doyle also acknowledges that his restaurant’s ample space, including a previously dedicated party room which has been converted into an additional dining area, has facilitated reopening. “I feel bad for smaller places that just can’t do social distancing,” he says with compassion for fellow restaurant owners. “It’s definitely a challenge.”
SAFETY IS TOPIC A
Our top priority is making sure everyone feels safe and that everyone is safe.” says Chef Talde.
To meet that goal, Goosefeather takes the temperature of every on-shift employee and arriving guest, obtains contact information from everyone, and requires all patrons to wear masks unless seated.
The restaurant also follows strict cleaning protocols and encourages customers to use online menus. Talde says diners have been cooperative and appreciative. “Everyone gets it,” he says. “We’re in very different times.”
Brian Doyle has invested in new safety measures, including a specialized ultraviolet air filtering system, a sanitizing spray device for thorough cleaning of tables, and lots of hand sanitizer.
St. George Restaurant has switched to disposable napkins and online menus, is providing hand sanitizer at every entry and exit, and posts signage throughout the establishment to direct foot traffic and maximize distancing. John DeChiaro says customer reactions have varied, but overall the new system is working well enough.
DeChiaro, Talde and Doyle all agree that there is still significant apprehension about indoor dining among customers. “There is no doubt that people are hesitant to come out,” says Doyle. DeChiaro predicts that “things aren’t really going to pick up again until there is a vaccine.”
Doyle and Talde both report that they have hired additional staff to perform newly adopted cleaning measures. “It’s more staff for less business,” says Doyle. Talde has considered adding a surcharge to cover a portion of increased costs. DeChiaro reports that in some limited instances, new technology such as online menus and ordering can help to offset additional expenses.
Talde also points out that the move to disposable, single–use items increases waste and runs counter to environmental-friendly efforts that had been gaining momentum prior to the pandemic. “There is a lot more waste now,” he says. “We’re buying so much more products, no doubt there is an environmental cost to this.”
DeChiaro says that take-out and delivery still account for nearly half of his business and that online delivery apps, such as Door Dash, have been helpful.
Doyle reports mixed experiences with third party delivery services which don’t allow for the quality control that he requires. So, he is making deliveries, including cocktails, himself.
“The landscape of the restaurant industry is changing daily,” he observes. “We’ve been open nearly 21 years and now we’ve changed our whole game plan. I never thought I’d be doing cocktail deliveries, but you do what you have to do.”
Robert McCreanor is an attorney and writer living in Peeksill.