Customers worried about indoor dining in NYC say restaurants biting off more than they can chew

Kerry Burke and Leonard Greene, New York Daily News
·2 min read

It was 30 degrees on Broadway, where Luis Baez was having lunch outside on Friday, and even though indoor dining restrictions had been lifted that day, he was not quite ready to go inside.

So, Baez ate his grilled chicken sandwich and fries al fresco, shivering under a heat lamp, hopeful for the day when he can eat inside without coronavirus concerns.

“I’m excited,” said Baez, during lunch at Harlem Public on Broadway near W. 149th Street “But I’m cautiously excited. It’s still best if you don’t eat indoors. But it’s nice to have the option. The workers don’t have much of a choice, but it’s their job. Maybe I’ll take advantage of it next week. I’m waiting to see.”

Diner Alex Sramek, 39, had a similar wait-and-see approach. The latte he sipped with his grilled chicken and avocado wrap cut some of the chill, and that would have to be enough for now.

“I appreciate it helping out businesses,” Sramek said of the indoor dining return. “But given the state of the virus, it’s not so smart. With the variants coming around, it’s a risky decision. I’ve been eating outside a lot lately to help out, but I’m not in any rush to go inside.”

Gov. Cuomo lifted the indoor dining ban two days earlier than the Valentine’s Day target date, saying that the state’s COVID numbers continue to decline.

Restaurants in the city have been barred from serving customers inside since mid-December, after a brief two-month reprieve in which the state allowed indoor dining in the five boroughs.

The new regulations cap capacity at 25%.

The governor also announced that restaurants can stay open until 11 p.m. starting on Sunday, a reprieve of sorts for bar and restaurant owners who have been calling on him to lift the statewide 10 p.m. curfew for a while.

Restaurant owner Ramona Romas, said the new concessions might be “too little too late.” She hosted five lunchtime diners inside and five diners outside at her Brisa Dominica restaurant, where the specials included fish in coconut sauce and a seafood casserole.

She said the restaurant can seat 54 people.

“They opened the schools, the barber shops,” Romas said. “What about the restaurants? What happens for us? Twenty-five percent is not enough. We need at least 50 to survive. Closing at 11 is too early. We need to be open until after midnight. We need both if we are to make up for lost business. My business is down 80%. I’m worried about closing. It’s too little too late, but we’ll take it.”