Igloos, greenhouse seating, creative uses of tenting.
All this and more are being implemented by creative restaurant owners and food service providers across Long Island in an effort to make dining safer this winter in the time of COVID-19 protocols, a panel of experts said Wednesday in the latest in the Newsday Live series of online webinars.
Moderated by Newsday associate editor Joye Brown and Newsday economics reporter James T. Madore, the panel included Dr. Randolph DiLorenzo, internist and medical director at Syosset Hospital; Eric Alexander, founder of the Long Island Main Street Alliance; ITA Kitchen-Bay Shore co-owner Christina Sorrentino, and Newsday food and drinks reporter Corin Hirsch.
The discussion covered everything from what local restaurants and eateries are doing to ensure the safety and welfare of patrons and staff during on-premises dining to the importance of diners abiding by both mandatory and suggested protocols in place to keep themselves and others safe.
Alexander said that in addition to social distancing mandates limiting indoor dining to 50% capacity, other compliance standards — including barriers, personal protection equipment, signage and health screening — have all added to the expense in business owners making their restaurants safe.
“I don’t think folks recognize the extent, the economic pain, (many businesses) have gone through (to ensure safety),” Alexander said.
He said of reassurance to diners should be Islandwide checks and crackdowns by the State Liquor Authority and the fact that Long Island has seen a very low number of violations compared to other places in the state.
He compared it to what happens when you see a car accident.
“You’re trained to see the negative,” he said. “But, by and large, Long Island restaurants are doing the right thing.”
Sorrentino noted that ITA had the bad timing of opening its doors in September 2019 — just a few months before the pandemic hit. That forced it to fast-track all sorts of upgrades to provide safe outdoor and indoor dining, she said.
Among the additions?
The restaurant invested in so-called Igloos — geodesic structures for safe, intimate, small group and individual dining — as well as so-call greenhouse dining areas in order to provide outdoor dining safety.
A veranda area was added for outdoor events, and the restaurant is incorporating ventilation precautions such as UV, thermal fogging and air filtration upgrades — all in the name of safety.
Sorrentino stressed that the staff observes safe practices when it comes to food preparation and service and said it’s important they remind patrons they need to do their part — even if it’s something as simple as mask reminders when they traverse the dining room.
She said that the use of social media to make potential diners aware of safety protocols in place also is a key for restaurants and eateries moving forward.
“Social media, letting patrons know safety precautions, making them aware, whether through our website, social media platforms, Google, Yelp,” she said. “It’s posted all over so the public can see we’re doing our due diligence.”
DiLorenzo stressed the most basic precautions remain the best: make sure hands are adequately washed, that staff and patrons wear face masks, that interior areas are well ventilated.