Since June 22nd, many NYC restaurants have reopened for outdoor dining service - with patios, backyards, and, in some cases, new sidewalk setups. Now, after about a week of outdoor dining and months of takeout and delivery, restaurants are preparing for their next step: operating indoor dining at 50% capacity. That’s what’s included in Phase 3, which may or may not happen as part of Phase 3.
New York State has laid out a specific set of guidelines for indoor dining (which you can read here). We’re unpacking the most important information below, to help you better understand what eating inside a restaurant might look like.
When is indoor dining actually happening?
In a press conference on June 25th, Mayor de Blasio announced that NYC could enter Phase 3 on Monday July 6th, which includes 50% capacity for indoor dining at restaurants. Though, on June 29th, he noted that the city was examining concerns over indoor dining.
NYC began Phase 1 on June 8th and Phase 2 on June 22nd. The timeline for entering new phases involves meeting seven different health metrics over a two week period, such as the number of hospitalizations due to suspected Covid-19 needs to stay under 200 per day, while availability of hospital beds, testing, and contact tracing need to trend steadily up. You can keep track of how NYC is doing with all seven metrics here.
Will I have to wear a mask at my table?
Nope - diners at indoor tables are not required to wear masks. According to the State’s Phase 3 guidelines, “Patrons must wear face coverings at all times, except while seated; provided that the patron is over the age of 2 and able to medically tolerate such covering.” You’ll have to put on a mask when you’re walking to your table, waiting to be seated, or picking up a to-go order.
So I can use the restroom?
Yes - as long as you’re wearing a mask.
Will the restaurant staff have to wear masks?
Yes. The Food Services Guidelines for Employers and Employees states: “Employees must wear face coverings at all times.”
What else will restaurants do to ensure a sanitary environment?
In terms of mandatory policies for indoor dining in NYC, there are three big to-dos:
According to the NY State Food Services Guidelines for Employers and Employees, restaurants must “limit indoor capacity to no more than 50% of maximum occupancy, exclusive of employees.”
All indoor tables will be separated by a minimum of six feet in all directions, and communal tables are only allowed if diners can remain six feet apart. If distancing isn’t possible between tables, restaurants will have to put up physical barriers between tables that are at least five feet tall.
Restaurants are required to check employees for symptoms before they can enter the workspace, using tools like questionnaires or temperature checks. The Phase 3 guidelines specify that, “At a minimum, screening must determine whether the employee or vendor has had: 1) COVID-19 symptoms in past 14 days, (2) positive COVID-19 test in past 14 days, and/or (3) close contact with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case in past 14 days.”
What else should I know about sanitation guidelines?
Common areas and frequently touched surfaces/objects - like restrooms, tables, doorknobs, and credit-card readers - must be cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis. The Food Services Guidelines for Employers and Employees state, “Cleaning and disinfection must be rigorous and ongoing and should occur at least after each shift, daily, or more frequently if needed.”
The guidelines encourage restaurants to use disposable menus. It says, “If non-disposable menus are used, clean and disinfect the menus between each party’s use.”
Staff are required to wash their hands after bussing tables. If they’re wearing gloves, they need to replace their gloves before and after cleaning and disinfecting the tables.
Restaurants are encouraged to place hand sanitizer stations in congested areas like exits and entrances, and provide different entrances for employees and customers. Lastly, restaurants have the option to let customers give contact information in case of future tracing - but this is not required.
Will I have to get my temperature checked before I’m seated?
No. Restaurants aren’t required to screen any diners or delivery workers. Although the CDC strongly urges you to stay home if you feel sick.
How many people can I bring with me?
The official maximum is ten people per table, and everyone at the same table must be in the same party. But some restaurants have started to develop their own party size preferences (and, in many cases, NYC spots won’t have enough space for ten people), so make sure to check in before you show up with a huge group. Also - restaurants with communal tables or communal bar areas have to create a six-foot distance between different parties.
Can I still eat outside at a restaurant?
Yup - while restaurants will soon be allowed to open their indoor dining rooms at 50% capacity, that number won’t include any outdoor tables. Meaning, restaurants will still be able to serve people outside, as long as the tables are six feet apart. You can read more about the Phase 2 guidelines for outdoor dining here.
All of this really makes me want a drink - will bars and clubs be open for indoor service as well?
Just like restaurants, bars and clubs will be allowed to use their indoor spaces. All the same rules apply - meaning they’ll be able to operate at 50% capacity, tables must be six feet apart, and staff will have to wear masks at all times.
Will I have to sit down at a bar?
You need to be seated to drink at a bar (and you won’t have to wear a mask while you’re at your table). The rules for bars are the same as they are for restaurants.
So what’s the deal with bar games or just wandering around and mingling?
You can’t play any bar games inside, which should be fine because you’re not very good at darts anyway. The NY State Liquor Authority’s Phase 3 guidelines state, “all persons who are not already seated (e.g., waiting for food, or waiting to be seated), should be encouraged to wait in their vehicle and/or leave the premises. Congregating other than persons seated at tables is not generally permissible.”
Do I have to buy food to drink at a bar?
Nope. According to the NY State Liquor Authority, bars are required to “make food available, but do not require that food be purchased.”