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NYC

Feature

July 22, 2020
4 NYC Restaurant Owners On Why To-Go Windows Feel Safer Than Table Service
“I don’t want to be in the position of telling my staff to ‘go take orders from that table of people not wearing masks.’”

As restaurants adjust to NYC reopening for outdoor dining, some have decided to forgo table service. Instead, they’ve set up takeout windows and seat-yourself tables so that you can order and eat as you please with minimal staff interaction.

For anyone who is trying to navigate their comfort level with eating out right now, we want you to know that this hybrid takeout-outdoor dining option exists - and that many restaurants around the city are trying it out. Our guide highlights 20 restaurants that are using this model.

We also wanted to dig deeper and hear from a few of those restaurant owners about why they made the decision to set up takeout windows and seat-yourself tables. As important as it is to think about your own comfort level as a diner, it’s imperative to consider where the restaurant teams themselves are coming from. Here’s what the owners behind Colina Cuervo, Uncle Boons/Thai Diner, Wildair/Contra/Peoples, and James had to say.


Noah Devereaux

Jorge Salamea, OWNER OF COLINA CUERVO

Why did you and your team make the decision for Colina Cuervo to focus on to-go orders and a seat-yourself set-up instead of full table service?

Even before outdoor dining, we started doing a portion of our business at the counter anyway. Just to be playful, we call it “la ventana,” which translates to “the window” in Spanish. This format creates a safe distance and sense of safety for employees. One of my employees has a family member who is immunocompromised. That fact has been informing a lot of the things we do here.

What was the process like coming to that decision?

As much as I explored offering table service outside, at what point does the interaction with a server become dangerous? With all due respect, I think people are people, and some people are strict about following guidelines and others are following none at all. I don’t want to be in the position of telling my staff to “go take orders from that table of people not wearing masks.”

How has the experience of reopening felt so far?

I just read that the governor put out the three strikes and you’re out restrictions. Many people are desperate to have social interaction. Because of that need, people are going to break some rules and then restaurants and cafes have to turn into rule enforcers. If you’re not wearing a mask at the cafe, we’re not giving you service. We’ve had some instances where we had to enforce that.

What else should diners be thinking about?

To diners, those who can afford to go out, be conscientious. We make money based on volume. The more diners there are, the better it is for us. So wear a mask, wash your hands. If you’re sitting at a table, don’t sit there for too long, give a chance to other people to sit. Turning a table is how restaurants make money. If there’s a place that is too crowded, just go to another place that isn’t too crowded.


Noah Devereaux

Ann Redding, Co-Owner of Thai Diner and Uncle Boons

Thai Diner reopened with a takeout window and seat-yourself outdoor tables for those who want to “dine-in.” Why did you and your team make that decision?

First and foremost, we’re being cautious and doing our best to keep our guests and team safe. We’re just lucky that Thai Diner has big windows and this format happens to work great for us. We’ve been adjusting as we go along by running out food to our “dine in” guests and, we have also implemented a QSR code system where you’re able to sit at the table, scan the code for our menu, order and pay yourself. The only contact will be when we run your food and drink out to your table.

How has the experience of reopening felt so far?

The reopening process has been a little herky jerky to say the least. I think a “go with the flow” attitude is crucial to one’s sanity at this point.

How many staff members are working at the restaurant right now?

Honestly, we have more staff working than probably makes sense for this business model, but it was important to us to make room for as many people as possible from our teams who needed to get back to work.

What else should we know? What else should people who don’t work in restaurants know?

Everyone on the team who is working right now is in a position where getting back to work wasn’t an option - it was an absolute necessity. We’re all really grateful for everyone who dines with us and orders delivery. We’re especially grateful for our team who has worked tirelessly and continues to weather an incredibly stressful, complicated and difficult situation.


Hannah Albertine

FabiÁn Von Hauske, Co-owner of Contra, Wildair, and Peoples

Wildair reopened recently with a takeout window and seat-yourself outdoor tables. How did you and your partner come to that decision?

We really don’t think we are at the full-service dining point yet. We don’t think that the current climate in the country needs full-service restaurants at the moment, we wanted to do something that felt safe, casual, and fun while we are going through this.

Was it a no-brainer? Did you go back and forth for a while?

No-brainer for sure. We ourselves don’t want to hang out inside restaurants and get served by people who are putting themselves at risk for us. We all have to do better. This hopefully is our way of trying to do better.

Do you personally feel safe at work right now? What’s your sense of how your staff feel?

I feel safe at work. I hope my staff feels safe. We have been very careful with rotating people around and reintroducing them to the team, this is another reason why we don’t want to do table service.

What’s the most responsible way for a diner to eat at a restaurant right now? Is there one? How can diners best respect your space and staff?

Just go out to a restaurant that’s not doing table service. When you interact with staff, when you’re ordering food, or are moving around the space - wear a mask, treat people with respect and recognize that while you always have been responsible for other people’s well being, now you are even more responsible. Tip well, and in some cases recognize, accept, and demand for the prices at restaurants to be higher. It’s all about rebuilding the restaurant industry that we all love.


Deborah Williamson, Founder of James

James reopened recently with a takeout window and seat-yourself outdoor tables (and continues to sell provisions/groceries). How did you and your partner come to that decision?

We want to keep our staff safe and counter service reduces their exposure by limiting the tableside interaction. This allows us to offer outdoor dining while still doing take-out, delivery and provisions. That way, we’re able to be there for all our guests depending on what they need. It’s a new normal for us but so far it’s working.

What was the process like to come to that decision?

It was a quick decision and really the only option we considered. Given the current situation, this is the only option that we could see working for us, and the only one we feel comfortable doing. Is it perfect? We’re learning along the way but we’re doing the best version of it as we can.

How has the experience of reopening felt so far? What are you expecting for the rest of the summer (acknowledging it’s hard to predict or anticipate anything these days).

The past few months have been a roller coaster ride full of every emotion and more questions than answers. We’re literally rebuilding a business from the ground up.

How many staff are working at the restaurant right now?

On any given night, we have two front of house and two cooks. It’s a slim team.

What else should we know? What else should people who don’t work in restaurants know?

Everyone in this business is working hard. We show up every single day to be here for our neighborhood. Be patient with us. We’re learning and adapting as we go along.

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