Last week Wayla sent out an email to announce that they’re taking outdoor dining reservations. I read the note a few times, the way you read a happy birthday message from someone delightfully unexpected. The past few months have made me realize I don’t need to communicate with 65% of the people in my life, but hearing from Wayla gave me butterflies.
For all those who are not yet indoctrinated, Wayla is an impressive Thai spot on the LES that was one of our Best New Restaurants Of 2019. If I was the sort of lady to sit around with a parasol, Wayla’s idyllic back patio is exactly where I’d want to twirl one. It’s Eden - only better because there aren’t any snakes. And yet, as excited as I was to hear from Wayla, I made a reservation half-expecting to cancel it.
The night of my reservation came. On the way to Wayla, I passed by a stretch of Orchard Street that looked like SantaCon without the Santa suits. People congregated on sidewalks with drinks in hand - all without masks. I felt a rush of nerves. While I have the choice to go out to eat, most restaurant staff don’t have the choice to work. Was I about to be a Santa too?
I don’t know the answer to whether or not you should eat out right now. What I can tell you is that sitting in Wayla’s back patio was as calm as anything can be in June 2020. There are a few logistical reasons for this difference. The first is that Wayla’s patio is tucked away and large enough to fit eight tables spread six feet apart. The second is that Wayla is only accepting reservations right now, which sets a tone that says, “Have fun and relax under the twinkly string lights, but this is not normal.”
Wayla’s service was as kind and personable as I remember from last year. A bartender told me about a new hanabi milk punch they added to the menu and then literally danced as he delivered one to me.
Wayla’s Thai food was also how I remembered it. Each handwoven noodle-wrapped meatball was crunchy and piping hot, and I enjoyed many minutes of intimate eye contact with a lobster as I slurped sweet, eggy noodles out of its head. The one difference was a new menu item, which turned out to be my favorite dish of the night - a brisket curry with coconut-based broth that was as creamy as it was spicy.
I’ve had a lot of friends ask about the precautions New York City restaurants are taking to ensure their diners’ safety. Will servers wear masks? How often are surfaces disinfected? Are restaurant owners temperature-checking their employees?
Wayla, and other NYC restaurants I’ve observed, are doing the best they can. Instead of spending our energy worrying about how the city’s restaurant workers can best serve us as diners, why don’t we ask how we can best serve them? What can I do to not be a Santa? How can I support a neighborhood restaurant I want to succeed?
If you do decide to go out in NYC, here’s my suggestion: Order everything at once so the server doesn’t have to interact with you a million times. Consider pulling your mask up when your waiter comes around (even though you don’t technically have to). Drop off some beer or coffee at a neighborhood spot you love. And, even if you do none of these things, tip more generously than you ever have before.
Have thoughts or questions about outdoor dining in NYC right now? Let’s talk. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.