For the first time since the COVID-19 shutdown began in March, restaurants on Long Island are able to seat diners indoors as Phase 3 under New York Forward’s reopening began on Wednesday.
It was a day that many eateries, including Claude’s Restaurant at the Southampton Inn, have been looking forward to for months, according to Dede Gotthelf, the owner.
“We have lost around 40 percent of our seasonal visitors this year as the international tourists, people flying in from far away U.S. locations, and the outings, galas, and events-inspired travelers have cancelled or postponed,” Gotthelf said. “With the announcement that Eastern Long Island is permitted to enter Phase 3 of the safety protocols for COVID-19, we have seen joy — and many calls — from past guests who waited for the dining experience to open up.”
In accordance with state guidelines, the restaurant is at half capacity with tables spaced at least six feet apart. There is a max of 10 people per table. Face coverings must be worn when diners are not seated, and staff must wear them too.
At Claude’s, there is also an adjacent outdoor courtyard, set up for social distanced dining under the summer skies. The courtyard, pool patio and lawns have tables and chairs sprinkled around for the all-day picnic dining. In fact, the restaurant is offering a picnic basket filled with individually wrapped local foods in a choice of biodegradable containers or real plates and flatware.
While staff are required to wear masks, they are also going a step further using paper napkins and paper tablecloths, instead of cloth, over the tables so that everything can be properly sanitized between guests.
On the first day of Phase 3, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone held his daily press briefing from the Whales Tale restaurant in Northport to mark the occasion. “It is a great day to see all of these restaurants open up . . . this is a significant milestone for us.”
Restaurants have been allowed to serve diners outdoors since Phase 2, which began on June 10.
Union Burger Bar and Southampton Social Club, restaurants owned by Ian Duke, have had “really positive experiences with the utilization of all of our outdoor space,” he said. “In fact, I’d have to say in many ways it’s been great to see everyone truly appreciating being together and enjoying some of the simplest of life pleasures under the stars.”
The weather has been cooperative, nearly perfect Duke said.
But, with the beginning of Phase 3, comes some challenges. Duke said staffing has been hard to come by, and the added cleaning, constant sanitizing and monitoring, make it more difficult. “Most people don’t really understand how hard it is to keep a large area clean, sanitary and or ‘disinfected’ for hours on end with people constantly moving about the area,” he said. “On the positive side though, people are getting a lot more used to it all.”
Steven Jauffrineau, who manages Marc Rowan’s three East End restaurants, has taken a slightly different approach at each. At Duryea’s Lobster Deck in Montauk, there is no indoor dining, even with the advent of Phase 3. He is able to maintain the number of tables on the site, and the required six foot minimum between tables, by expanding out onto the dock. Some tables have also been placed between the area between Tuthill Road and the entrance to the iconic Montauk establishment.
In Sag Harbor, at Lulu’s Kitchen, the village has allowed the restaurant to expand out onto the sidewalk. In addition, he said, he has placed unobtrusive barriers between tables. Jauffrineau was preparing Duryea’s Orient Point restaurant for its opening as he spoke to a reporter on the phone Thursday.
“We have to reassure people that they are safe,” he said. He said he expects the public to be demanding in terms of health and safety, and that restaurateurs who do not practice social distancing and other rules regarding protective equipment for staff and customers when needed will lose customers.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the restaurant industry has really suffered through the COVID-19 pandemic. “Survival is the optimal word right now,” he said. The margin between success and failure is so slim in the restaurant industry, Schneiderman said. “It is a really hard business. Out east, you have a short season, June to September.” In the best of times, he said, a large percentage of restaurants don’t make it.
He said that after an event yesterday kicking off Phase 3 at Blu Mar in Southampton, he was hungry and had lunch there. “I felt safe. The waitress had a mask on,” he said.
Personal care services such as nail salons and tattoo parlors also reopened doors Wednesday. These businesses are also allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity and face coverings must be worn at all times. Employees must be tested for COVID-19 every 14 days.
In Phase 3, gatherings up to 25 are now allowed, up from the previous number of 10 individuals.
Jessica Mackin-Cipro, Eric Feil and T.E. McMorrow contributed to this article.