- New York City restaurants were allowed to open to outdoor diners starting Monday as the city entered Phase 2 of reopening.
- I visited Edward’s, a restaurant in lower Manhattan, to dine out for the first time in more than three months.
- I was nervous about crowds and safety beforehand.
- But the combination of distanced tables, mask-wearing employees, and single-use resources put me at ease.
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On June 22, I ventured out into the changed New York City dining scene to eat at a restaurant for the first time in more than three months.
When picking a spot for a night out, I’d usually make my way through my citywide restaurant bucket list, or look around to see what’s new and if I’m able to get a table.
This Monday, when New York City entered Phase 2 of its reopening of coronavirus measures, allowing restaurants to open for outdoor dining after months of being closed, I had to adapt my process a bit.
Since the city’s restaurants were first ordered to close their dining rooms on March 17, many have shut down completely. Some have remained open for delivery and takeout, but this is the first time since the pandemic began that sit-down dining has been allowed.
Before venturing out, I looked into the restaurants that were within a 20-minute walking distance of my apartment. Then I started to call the ones that were open to see if they were, in fact, implementing outdoor dining; some weren’t quite there yet.
I looked at menus and prices, and I ultimately decided on Edward’s – a café that had discounted beer and what looked like wonderful fries (I was right, the fries were wonderful).
When I first got the June 21 email from Notify NYC — an alert service for NYC residents — that outdoor dining would open starting the next day, I felt conflicted.
On the one hand, I was excited to walk down the streets of this city in the summer, witnessing the stunning sight of people sipping on lunchtime wine outside on the footpath.
But on the other, I was nervous. Walking around the weekend before, I saw people drinking in the streets, gathering without masks or with them slung under their chins.
I was curious to see how restaurants that need to fill their tables just to break even were going to set up enough outdoor seating to bring in a sustainable amount of cash. And I couldn’t visualise how a dense city like New York could fit both dining tables and pedestrians on the same narrow footpaths.
Most of all, I felt anxious thinking about how outdoor diners could possibly keep a safe distance from one another.
Walking around the weekend before New York City entered Phase 2, when outdoor dining could officially begin, I had already seen New Yorkers taking to the streets to eat and booze their way through the summer weather.
Friends gathered outside of bars to drink and talk, restaurants set up tables for their takeout customers to sit and eat at, and people seemed relaxed and happy.
Most people I saw wore masks around their chins as they sipped on a cocktail through a single-use plastic cup and straw. Some wore masks and bandanas around their faces as they sat with friends listening to music outside a bar, holding a drink in their hand. Others chatted in close groups with no masks in sight.
Hungry groups ate from to-go containers on the tables outside restaurants.
To me, it looked like the outdoor dining phase had already begun.
But restaurants opening up their sit-down service means we can trade in our takeout containers for actual dishware.
Eating from a real plate instead of an aluminium container is a huge plus. But the bigger part of the dining out experience – the part I miss most – is interacting with the people who are working hard to put food on that real plate.
I love talking to servers and hosts, asking what they recommend and if there are any seasonal drinks available.
So, on Monday, I asked questions about the menu and joked with my server about the fact that I hated myself for requesting a plastic cup for my beer. While I was ready to sit down at a table I could wipe with disinfectant, I wasn’t ready to put my mouth on a bottle.
But more on the eating experience later.
Going into the experience, I thought I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it because I’d be worrying about all of the outside factors and potential for contracting COVID-19.
I got dressed in a full look, earrings and all, which I was thrilled about, but the inside of my bag looked like a travel case of anti-viral protection.
I packed disinfectant wipes, miniature hand sanitizer, rubber gloves, two sheets of paper towels, and plastic cutlery that I had saved from delivery orders. I was operating with a just-in-case mentality.
When I walked up to the restaurant, I saw that it had taken over what would be parking spaces to create its own patio rather than crowd the footpath.
This was something I noticed a couple of other restaurants doing in the neighbourhood. Restaurants kept some tables close to their physical building and set up others right there in the street.
When I first saw the setup, I felt more at ease than when I was just trying to envision it in my head. There was plenty of room for pedestrians to walk and for diners to keep out of the way.
Edward’s wasn’t yet crowded when I got there, so I had my pick of tables. I chose one of the ones set up in the street, at the corner of the barriers so that I’d be as far as possible from anyone else who was sitting at the tables around me.
Admittedly, I probably would have been a little less comfortable if I were seated at a table closer to the pedestrian path.
To limit shared items between customers, Edward’s was using paper menus. But, they did use glass carafes and water cups.
My mask-wearing server brought over a menu, which was typed out on a piece of yellow printer paper.
After my friend and I had ordered, he crumpled the paper in front of us – we then knew that he wouldn’t be reusing it for another customer. I appreciated seeing that my menu, which I may have transferred germs to, wasn’t going to end up in someone else’s hands.
My logical brain knows that the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 from a water glass is low. However, I brought my own reusable straw and it made me feel better to use it.
I didn’t have to whip out my plastic cutlery because Edward’s was distributing its own.
Individually wrapped pairs of plastic knives and forks were delivered to our table on a plate. Again, not using metal silverware put me more at ease. While I was able to cut my burger in half with the plastic knife, sharper steak knives were available upon request.
I thought I wasn’t going to want to eat with my hands, but I ended up throwing caution to the wind on that front.
I did use a fork for my fries, though, which is slightly out of character for me.
There were no salt and pepper shakers on the tables, and ketchup came in packets rather than a bottle.
A funny thing happened when I was eating my well-done fries: I realised I wasn’t using ketchup.
Typically, I’m a big condiment girl – hot sauce, barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, I love it all. But the thought of touching the packets and getting ketchupy fingers (you know, the stuff gets all over when you try and squeeze it out of those little packets) just seemed like an inconvenience now that I’m more cautious of keeping my hands clean.
I felt like I was able to keep 6 feet between myself, diners around me, and even the person I was dining with.
There have been discussions around different ways to implement barriers and such inside restaurants as they begin to reopen.
But as I sat across the table from a friend who I haven’t been in quarantine with, I felt like I was able to keep our faces six feet apart by leaning backward and relaxing in the 7 p.m., New York City summer weather.
I kept my mask on while we were waiting for our food to arrive and put it back on after we were finished eating.
I had a great experience that turned out to be a lot less panic-inducing than I anticipated.
Some restaurants that I passed took over the footpath with their tables and others seemed a little too cramped for comfort. But my experience at Edward’s was a lot more organised than the bars I had passed over the weekend with outdoor crowds.
So, if I indulge in a restaurant experience again soon, I’ll definitely be calling ahead of time to ask about the seating arrangements and the safety measures in place.
The organisation of the dining experience put me at ease, and eating at a restaurant in a summertime outfit sipping a cold beer with a friend broke me out of my coronavirus funk – even if it was just for an hour or so.
Edward’s did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
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