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Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that New York City restaurants can reopen indoor dining at 25% capacity on September 30. That is a big change for the city's restaurants and bars. They've been operating outdoors all summer. And as Camille Petersen reports, the start of indoor dining is not the end of uncertainty for New York City's restaurants.
CAMILLE PETERSEN, BYLINE: Over Labor Day weekend, Chris Maestro saw something almost miraculous.
CHRIS MAESTRO: Pre-COVID sales numbers and probably the best sales weekend in maybe over, like, a year and a half.
PETERSEN: Maestro owns BierWax, a beer and vinyl record bar in Brooklyn. He says he started seeing strong sales numbers once he could open seating in his backyard and on the sidewalk. But that sidewalk seating is only allowed until the end of October.
MAESTRO: Kind of feels like trying to eat as much as possible because you're about to fast for a long time.
PETERSEN: Maestro says indoor dining is not a game-changer for him. Figuring out how to seat people six feet apart at 25% capacity in his narrow bar is a jigsaw puzzle, and it's unclear whether he would even be allowed to seat people at the bar itself. If he can...
MAESTRO: We've been considering even doing, like, plexiglass in a classy way between bar stools so that people can be protected and safe.
PETERSEN: But Maestro says no matter how he puts together the indoor dining jigsaw, it won't make up for the loss of outdoor dining, so he's looking into what heat lamps would cost. In BierWax's backyard, Chinisha Scott is drinking a bourbon lemonade. She trusts BierWax would do indoor dining safely but is still hesitant about it.
CHINISHA SCOTT: I don't trust other people enough to feel safe doing that. I just know that the fact that we're in September still having this conversation is proof positive that I don't think people are prepared to be conscientious enough and take care of each other.
PETERSEN: Scott is more open to the idea of winter outdoor dining.
SCOTT: If we had some hot toddies and heat lamps and a good sweater, I could see myself in the backyard, hanging out.
PETERSEN: Chris Maestro, BierWax's owner, says all the planning for what indoor dining could look like, what outdoor in cold weather could look like - it's like boxing, weaving side to side, up and down to avoid getting knocked out.
MAESTRO: You have to really look at all angles and all directions, really.
PETERSEN: In Harlem, Karl Franz Williams is also looking at every angle.
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PETERSEN: He says the summer is ending the way it started - with a lot of uncertainty for his bar 67 Orange Street.
KARL FRANZ WILLIAMS: It's a longer period of time. You know, this happened in March, and we knew we were going through summer. Now it's six months where the temperature is going to be unstable.
PETERSEN: Williams says he'll be able to fit at most 10 or 12 seats inside with the new rules compared to the 20 he can fit outside. And just like with outdoor dining, he imagines there will be lots of new and changing rules for indoor dining, but he feels better prepared this time.
WILLIAMS: The new norm is we don't know what's going to happen, when it's going to happen and how it's going to look until it happens.
PETERSEN: Williams is trying to take all the shifting pieces of what he can do and when he can do it and cobble them together to stay open. Tracy Hadden Loh is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and has been researching the restaurant industry during the pandemic. She says all this cobbling together is the future for the city's restaurants even with indoor dining.
TRACY HADDEN LOH: Restaurants can't just turn on a dime and change everything and then do it again in two months.
PETERSEN: Instead, they have to play multi-dimensional chess - make moves that work in many scenarios under many different rules.
For NPR News, I'm Camille Petersen in New York.
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