Photo by Mark König on Unsplash
May 27, 2021
Bar and restaurant workers to Brooklyn diners: Be more chill
Vaccination numbers are up and the pandemic is ebbing, but you still need to be a good customer
I still feel slightly traumatized by the family of four that arrived two weeks ago for their 6 p.m. indoor dining reservation without wearing masks. After a year of greeting only masked faces, they caught me by surprise.
I clumsily explained that yes, despite headlines from earlier that day announcing the CDC’s unexpected about-face regarding vaccinated people wearing masks inside, the CDC doesn’t actually make the rules for restaurants–the state does that–and we were keeping a masks-up policy for the time being.
Guests who dine inside are technically still required to complete temperature checks and provide contact tracing information, anyway.
“I know it’s frustrating,” I told them. “I know it’s hot. We’re tired, too, believe me.”
And with that, mom unearthed a mask from her purse, but her husband held firm. He didn’t have one; what was I going to do about it? (Reader, I got him a mask.)
Hot mess summer
It’s now been one week since New York State pumped up the post-pandemic party volume by adopting the CDC’s guidelines for fully vaccinated people, which not only include the stipulation that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks. They also don’t need to physically distance in any setting–outdoors, or in.
In a blink, our customers’ inhibitions started dropping faster than bathing suits at Fort Tilden on a summer day.
But for many of us in Brooklyn’s beleaguered hospitality industry, that joie de vivre is both premature and misguided. We’ve had a hard year, and we’re still early enough down the road to recovery to remember the traumatic details.
“You can’t jump from A to W and not give us any warning,” says Dan Wise, co-owner of Ore Bar in Williamsburg.
When news of the CDC announcement broke, Wise and several owners of neighboring establishments did the same thing they’ve done repeatedly over the past year: They huddled to decide what to do collectively, a sort of strength-in-numbers approach in place of any clear-cut policy from the state.
For now, that means Ore Bar is keeping its in-house mask rules “as is.” Masks are still required for customers when ordering, and encouraged when seated and not consuming food and drink (regardless of vaccination status). Ore Bar is also waiting until after June 1 to push back their closing times, despite the state slowly rolling back curfews for restaurants and bars ahead of then.
On top of dealing with both new indoor rules and curfews, the idea of policing guests over their mask usage just feels like too much.
“It’s a weird time,” echoes Alex Haskell, general manager of Barrow’s Intense Tasting Room in Industry City in Sunset Park.
Haskell admits they’re in a unique situation because Barrow’s Intense Tasting Room has an outdoor area that is overseen by Industry City, which dictates mask policies for its tenants, whereas most small businesses are left policing their own mask policies.
“I don’t think people know what the right thing to do is anymore,” Haskell says.
Wise says the lack of guidance for the hospitality industry and the resulting confusion is both “disappointing and not surprising.” It’s also understandable.
Devil in the details
The fine print on the CDC guidelines received significantly less airplay, but it does contain exceptions, including that masks are still to be donned “where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and in workplaces.” That would be us restaurateurs.
The finer print also leaves open a range of options for bars and restaurants from implementing an honor system around vaccination status to “carding” people, to creating separate spaces for vaccinated and unvaccinated clientele. Imagine, for a moment, how these various scenarios might play out—leave aside the manpower, money and time that would be required to make them reality.
To this end, it makes sense that we seem to collectively be responding with caution.
Where taking your mask off might signal that you’re vaccinated, continuing to wear a mask in bars and restaurants also sends a message.
“It lets people know that you care,” says Haskell, who is encouraged by the number of guests who have taken to announcing—unsolicited—that they are vaccinated.
I appreciate it, too, and this feeling is so fresh and life-affirming that it’s hard to imagine I’ll grow tired of hearing it.
When I consider where the hospitality industry stood—er, sat—a year ago, it’s hard to believe that rubbing elbows in bars and restaurants (quite literally and with sexy strangers to boot) is within our reach.
I’ve heard some within our industry say that it’s starting to feel like Covid is over.
But despite that sounding like music to everyone’s ears, it seems too like we’re all—businesses and patrons alike—testing the social waters again.
With Memorial Day Weekend upon us, I hope we don’t lose sight of the land.
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