NEW YORK — The owner of Astoria Bier & Cheese didn't seize on the return of indoor dining with the same fervor as the restaurateurs who have already started serving diners inside. He's taking it with a grain of salt — and maybe a sprinkle of pepper jack.
“I don’t need to be the one to be the guinea pig," said Rick White, who owns the craft beer and cheese spot on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, Queens. "Let’s see what happens.”
As the owners of eating and drinking establishments across New York City resumed indoor dining Wednesday at 25 percent capacity — the first time it's been allowed since March — some restaurateurs are taking a "wait and see" approach. They cited concerns about COVID-19, especially as schools reopen and some neighborhoods report upticks in cases.
In some cases, the numbers didn't add up.
"So much of it is situational," said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. "When you come to restaurants, you often need the same amount of labor whether you’re at 25 percent, 50 percent or 75 percent, so it may just not make financial sense for certain restaurants to even try to open up.”
And that doesn't even factor in the health and safety considerations of dining indoors, where the virus can more easily spread without proper ventilation.
"Throughout the entire pandemic, there’s been tons of ethical questions that restaurateurs have to grapple with," Rigie said. "There’s no easy answer."
Astoria Bier & Cheese still offers outdoor dining on its back patio, but White isn't setting up indoor tables just yet. He is concerned about the virus, he said, and the cost of meeting the health and safety guidelines for indoor dining doesn't justify how much business it would bring in.
(The Astoria Bier & Cheese on Broadway has different ownership, but White said they are taking a similar approach.)
“I’m such a small space, 25 percent doesn’t help me," said White, a longtime Astoria resident. "It gives me six or seven seats. To do everything that I have to do for six or seven seats, that’s not worthwhile right now.”
At Toad Style, a vegan restaurant in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, indoor dining would have meant only one of the eatery's three tables could be used at a time.
"We’re so small of a place, we barely even fit tables anyway," employee Sam Sousa said.
The restaurant never opened outdoor seating, given its limited space and not wanting to disturb its neighbors. Even so, relying on takeout service has been working for the eatery, Sousa said.
"I think we’re fine, we like it that way," he said.
Other restaurateurs that do plan on resuming indoor dining said Wednesday's start date came a bit too soon.
The owner of The Southern Comfort, also in Bed-Stuy, said she plans to start indoor table service the week after next.
The extra time will allow them to test their ventilation systems and ensure they have enough staff. Resuming indoor dining will double the number of diners they can serve at a time, from 15 to 30, co-owner Shawanna McDonald said.
"We need the seats," she said. "We're thankful for the outdoor dining, but it's not enough."
At Clay, a farm-to-table restaurant in Harlem, and Espresso 77, a café in Jackson Heights, concerns about the virus loomed large.
Julie Nymann, who runs Espresso 77 with her husband, said outdoor dining has worked well for the business, and she doesn't want to rush into indoor dining just yet. In the meantime, she's working with her landlord and the local community board to get approval to switch out their windows for ones that open, which would improve ventilation.
For Clay's bar director, Andrea Needell Matteliano, deciding whether to reopen for indoor dining was “terrifying,” from both a health and business perspective.
Clay has garnered a reputation in the neighborhood for “being 11 on a safety scale of one to 10,” Needell Matteliano said. Diners are asked to read a full page of safety instructions when they sit down to eat on Clay’s outdoor patio, and are required to wear face masks whenever staff are at the table — a step beyond the city’s rules.
But she and the restaurant’s other co-owners decided their strict rules would mitigate the potential risks, and planned to resume indoor dining Thursday evening.
After all, there weren’t many other options, she said.
“My choice is to be open or lose my restaurant."
Patch editors Nick Garber, Anna Quinn and Gus Saltonstall contributed reporting.