New York

How NYC Restaurants Are Preparing for the Return of Indoor Dining

After six months of outdoor-only options, restaurateurs are getting ready with upgraded dining rooms and plenty of hand sanitizer.

Photos courtesy of Boqueria; Illustration by Maitane Romagosa
Photos courtesy of Boqueria; Illustration by Maitane Romagosa
Photos courtesy of Boqueria; Illustration by Maitane Romagosa

The day that many in the hospitality industry have awaited with equal parts excitement and trepidation is finally here: As of Sept. 30, indoor dining in NYC is once again allowed, albeit with many strict regulations. Most notably, restaurants will have to adhere to a maximum of 25 percent capacity for indoor seats, but other major changes include mandatory closings at midnight, a moratorium on bar seating, stricter regulations regarding air filtration, ventilation, and purification, and of course, ample amounts of hand sanitizer.

For the industry, which already operates on razor-thin margins, there is no scenario in which reopening indoors is not costly. A survey conducted by the James Beard Foundation put the cost per restaurant at an average of $5,000 each month for safety modifications and other new protocols. And particularly for fine dining establishments, which pride themselves on-literally and figuratively-high-touch service, creating an atmosphere that is both welcoming and safe is a tricky calculus. But regardless of fears and costs, most restaurants are choosing to reopen. For some, this will mark the first time they are able to operate since the city’s initial shutdown in March. And all restaurants are facing the arrival of winter and colder temperatures, which will drive a portion of guests away from outdoor dining (and ideally toward indoors).But that’s not to say there’s no positivity in this milestone. Take JP and Ellia Park, who own Korean small plates restaurant Atoboy and its sister spot, the lauded, fine-dining Atomix. The reopening marks the first time in six months they’ll be reunited with many of their staff. “It’s a deeply meaningful time,” says JP Park. “I believe that everyone who is in this industry is, in a sense, eager and excited, as it has been over half a year since we have been able to execute our work and our passions.”

Diane Kang
Diane Kang
Diane Kang

Of course, reopening a white tablecloth spot like Atomix can carry a steep financial cost. For that restaurant alone, the Parks estimate they’re spending around $10,000 on tasks like hiring and training new staff, buying PPE gear and tables that allow for social distancing, and creating new menu cards, a hallmark of the restaurant. And this doesn’t include all of the unforeseeable, but necessary, expenditures Park expects.One particularly large expense that many restaurants are facing is installing new air filtration or purification systems to remove as many small particulates from the air as possible. The contemporary Italian restaurant Portale and upscale Swedish spot Aquavit are installing MERV-13 air filters in addition to various other systems, and NoHo Hospitality Group (which owns The Dutch, Lafayette, and Bar Primi among others) is upgrading their HVAC systems with specialized filtration. Globally inspired The Musket Room is using a NPBI (needlepoint bionic ionization) device to continuously filter the air in the room and neutralize unwanted pathogens. Scientific Fire Prevention, a company with expertise in restaurant fire prevention, is hoping their NPBI device will soon become standard in many restaurants in NYC. “We can facilitate installations in less than a day,” says co-CEO David Klein. “Once installed, the maintenance is next to nothing: no need for replacement parts like filters or UVC bulbs.” Industry heavy hitters like Le Bernardin have already signed on.And at buzzy Korean steakhouse Cote, each of the tabletop grills has an individual exhaust that ejects air to the roof, rather than recirculating it. “The manufacturer shared that restaurants with this exhaust system have up to 6.6 times more air circulation compared to restaurants without them,” says Cote owner Simon Kim. Cote’s renovations were not limited to just the grill fans, either. “It was a lot of money, especially given the financial distress that we were put through the past seven months,” Kim says candidly. “The reopening of the interior is a massive undertaking considering the amount of labor, materials, and time involved. The improvements that we have made to the dining room involved many professionals, including our architects.”Other restaurants, like the venerable Daniel, are focusing their efforts on more temporary changes: The Michelin-starred French spot is opening up a more casual pop-up dubbed Boulud Sur Mer as the restaurant transitions into indoor dining. “No one traveled to France this summer, so I felt that a journey to Provence will offer some respite from the many months of challenges we have all faced,” said chef Daniel Boulud in a statement. Since this is Daniel, expect elevated touches like uniforms sourced from Commes des Garcons PLAY and leafy wallpaper by Hermès. But the Provencal menu will be a much lower price-point: three-courses and $123 for indoor diners through the holiday season. The restaurant plans to return to its normal décor and traditional French offerings in early 2021.And of course, it’s not only fine-dining spots that are making substantial changes to their interiors. Popular Spanish tapas spot Boqueria, which has four locations across the city, has spent much of the quarantine redesigning their interiors to be as safe and welcoming as possible. “Yes, there will be hand sanitizer and plexiglass, but there will also be beautiful plants filling the empty tables, good music playing, Cava chilling, and new paellas to try,” says owner Yann de Rochefort. In addition to protecting his staff and guests, de Rochefort is also leading the charge on protecting the restaurant industry. He was one of the co-creators of the nonprofit Safe Eats, which provides those in the industry with information on operating during COVID-19, discounts on PPE, and 24/7 on-call health and safety support.

Courtesy of Boqueria
Courtesy of Boqueria
Courtesy of Boqueria

Restaurant consulting firms, like Empowered Hospitality, have also been a lifeline to help navigate the complex processes of reopening, which includes 16 pages of guidance from New York State. “We are helping our clients decide how to staff their restaurants at partial capacity, implement COVID-19 protocols, train employees on COVID-19 workplace safety, and provide guidance on Families First Coronavirus Response Act leaves and other new regulations,” says founder Sarah Diehl.But even with all of these modifications, there is no guarantee that indoor dining will remain viable through the winter. The guidelines for the program will be reassessed by officials on Nov. 1; if infection rates in the city have not increased, restaurants may be permitted to go up to 50 percent capacity. But if rates are trending in the opposite direction, it’s very possible indoor dining will be banned for months. Moreover, in a recent survey conducted by the James Beard Foundation and the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC), independent restaurant owners reported needing nearly 60 percent capacity, at a minimum, to make reopening work for them financially. And with cases on the rise in New York in the last few weeks, the stability of indoor dining seems precarious.Many in the industry see the only solution as increased support from the state and/or federal level. “At the end of the day, however, none of this may be enough to prevent the continued closure of NYC restaurants if further government assistance is not provided,” says Diehl.Unfortunately, it’s a given that many restaurants will shutter permanently this fall and winter due to ballooning costs and a lack of customers. But the industry is famed for its determination, resilience, and creativity, all of which has been on full display during the pandemic. Organizations providing guidance and assistance have already proliferated, like ROAR (Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants), which gives financial aid to restaurant workers, and the IRC, who is lobbying for the passage of The RESTAURANTS Act.And, of course, they have each other. “Comparing notes with fellow restaurateurs has been extremely helpful and cathartic over the past six months,” says The Musket Room owner Jennifer Vitagliano. “Whether supporting our neighborhood small business committee, New York Hospitality Coalition, or other restaurants, we have found a renewed sense of camaraderie and support in our peers. We’re all genuinely rooting for each other’s survival and success.”Sign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.

Juliet Izon is a Thrillist contributor.

New York

Scavenge for Peeps Cookies and More Fun Treats in NYC This Easter

The best Easter desserts in NYC this spring include Easter Bunny Churros and Carrot Cake Macarons.

Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery
Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery
Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery

As spring makes its way through New York City, not only do we get to enjoy beautiful weather, stunning cherry blossoms, and cool activities priced at $Free.99, but it’s also the perfect time for some limited-edition desserts.

With Easter fast approaching, bakeries are filling their shops with tons of chocolate eggs, carrot cake-flavoured everything and all types of flavours that offer both nostalgia and innovation within the city’s dessert landscape. After you’ve picked up a cake from the city’s best new bakeries, from Easter Bunny Churros to Carrot Cake Macarons, here are 8 Easter desserts to try in NYC right now.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Bakery
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Bakery
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Bakery

Magnolia Bakery

Throughout April
Various locations
There’s great news for devotees of Magnolia Bakery’s Classic Banana Pudding: For Easter, the spot is mixing up the iconic dessert’s vanilla pudding with some carrot cake. The Carrot Cake Pudding is filled with freshly grated carrots, coconuts, pineapples, raisins, and walnuts. And if both bananas and carrots aren’t your thing, they’ll be offering their Classic Vanilla Cupcakes in pastel colours with a Cadbury chocolate egg hidden inside.

Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery
Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery
Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery

Funny Face Bakery

Through Easter Sunday
NoHo and Seaport
Known for their celebrity face and meme-worthy decorated cookies, fans of Funny Face Bakery know that a new fun design is always just around the corner. For Easter, they’ve created the adorable Hoppy Easter decorated cookie that resembles a classic box of marshmallow Peeps. Along with that, they also have the return of their fan-favourite Caramel Pretzel Chip cookie flavour, plus a set of three mini-decorated cookies perfect for gifting.

The Doughnut Project

Friday, April 7 through Easter Sunday
West Village
With the ever-changing flavours at The Doughnut Project, it’s super easy to miss out on trying out a new debut. But this Easter weekend, there will be two new flavours available. One is of course, a carrot cake doughnut topped with a cream cheese glaze, and the other is known as the Doughnut Nest-a French cruller “nest” with a cream-filled doughnut hole “egg” in the centre.

Photo by Cole Saladino, courtesy of The Fragile Flour
Photo by Cole Saladino, courtesy of The Fragile Flour
Photo by Cole Saladino, courtesy of The Fragile Flour

The Fragile Flour

Wednesday, April 5 through Easter Sunday
East Village
For stellar vegan desserts this holiday, head to The Fragile Flour, a plant-based bakery and dessert wine bar. They’re known for going all out for each holiday with a variety of new pastry options that you can pair perfectly with a glass of wine. This Easter, they’ll have a whole dessert menu that’s both delicious and gorgeous for posting on IG. The menu includes Stuffed Carrot Cake Cookies, a Lemon Cake (whole or by the slice), some festive cupcakes, and specialty macarons.

Photo courtesy of Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate
Photo courtesy of Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate
Photo courtesy of Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate

Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate

Through mid April
Midtown
For a luxurious take on Easter chocolates, browse the selections available at Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate. You can even pick the Easter Signature Chef’s Selection for a special box curated by award-winning chefs. For something other than chocolate, choose between the Carrot Cake Macarons or the cake flavored Easter Marshmallow Trio, both of which are almost too cute to eat.

La Churreria

Throughout April
Nolita
This churro-centric spot is putting the cutest Easter spin on their crispy cinnamon churros by twisting them up into bunnies and bunny ears. At Churreria, choose from a Bunny Churro Lollipop topped with your choice of chocolate or dulce de leche and sprinkles, or the bunny ear churros in the Ube and Matcha ice cream sundae or the Ube Milkshake, both of which are made with ice cream from il laboratorio del gelato.

Photo by Briana Balducci
Photo by Briana Balducci
Photo by Briana Balducci

Lafayette

Throughout April
NoHo
You’ve surely seen this croissant tons of times while scrolling through IG or TikTok, whether it’s the Pain au Chocolat one or the latest of the month. Known as Supr√™mes, these filled croissants went viral and continue to live up to the hype each time a new flavour comes out. April’s flavour-sour cherry amaretto with a Luxardo custard and toasted almonds. While you’ll have to be super early and wait in line during one of their three drops of the day to get a taste, we promise you it’ll be worth it.

Photo courtesy of Levain
Photo courtesy of Levain
Photo courtesy of Levain

Levain

Seasonal
Various locations
We all know the iconic cookies from Levain-they’re gigantic, perfectly crispy and chewy, and well worth the long lines. For spring, the shop is launching a new flavour: Caramel Coconut Chocolate Chip. Filled with gooey caramel chips, fresh shredded coconut, and melty dark chocolate, it’s one you’ve got to try while it’s still around. To further celebrate the new season, all of Levain’s storefronts will be decked out in spring floral displays, serving as the perfect backdrop for pictures.

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Alaina Cintron is an Editorial Assistant at Thrillist. Her work can also be found in Westchester Magazine, Girls’ Life, and Spoon University. When she’s not at her desk typing away, you can find her exploring a local coffee shop or baking a new recipe.

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