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Indoor Dining Returns to NYC Today, Following Tepid Launches in New Jersey, New York State

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Plus, a group of restaurant workers is striking to end the tipped minimum wage today — and more intel

The dining room of a New York City restaurant, with light wood furniture and a half-filled glass of wine sitting at an empty table
The dining room at Niche Niche, which reopened for indoor dining on September 30
Matt Taylor-Gross

Indoor dining is a start, not a cure-all

New York City will officially reopen for reduced-capacity indoor dining today, the first time restaurants will welcome customers into their dining rooms in more than six months. Yet if the indoor dining programs in New Jersey and New York state are anything to go by, the city’s restaurateurs are far from out of the woods. In New Jersey, which reopened for 25 percent capacity indoor dining since September 4, the New York Times found that some restaurants were operating at a net loss with indoor dining, given the cost of equipment and staffing needed to provide a safe restaurant experience. Restaurant owners in New York suburbs, where indoor dining has been allowed at 50 percent capacity since June, have been “lucky if they’re breaking even,” the Times reports.

Several of the city’s restaurant owners have said the return of indoor dining has given their businesses a fighting chance of making it through the winter, while others have been able to reopen their doors for the first time since the start of the pandemic in March. Yet many, many others have questioned the safety and viability of bringing customers back into their dining rooms, even as they make plans to do so. “I can’t believe restaurants and the people who work in them have been failed so badly by Washington that many will have no choice but to go along with [reopening indoor dining rooms at one-quarter capacity],” New York Times critic Pete Wells wrote in an article earlier this week.

It remains to be seen how New York City diners take to the return of indoor dining after more than six months of takeout, delivery, and eating outdoors. In September, a poll of Eater readers found that the bulk of its respondents still have concerns about indoor dining, with nearly a quarter reporting they plan to “wait and see.” Meanwhile, in a survey of the city’s reporters, editors, and food critics, only one respondent shared that they planned to eat indoors immediately.

In other news

— Some Brooklyn business owners are at odds with street vendors in their neighborhoods, Crain’s reports. The owners say that illegal vending has gone way up since the mayor moved enforcement out from under the NYPD’s purview in June. The Street Vendor Project, an organization that represents thousands of street vendors in the city, says that the vendors fill a different need in the community and “it’s not unfair competition.”

— Finback, the popular Queens-based brewer with a second taproom in Gowanus, has teamed up with Van Leeuwen on a new oatmeal stout flavored ice cream. The beer that inspired the flavor, called Chocolate, Coffee, Peanut Butter, and Pretzel, is available in cans at both of Finback’s locations.

— Some New York City restaurant workers are striking today to end the tipped minimum wage, the practice by which employees can be paid less than state or federal minimum wages as a result of also receiving tips. The protest will kick off at Capital Grille on East 42nd Street at 12 p.m. today.

— Williamsburg pizzeria Vinnie’s is now selling comfort words for delivery. For $1, the pizzeria’s delivery person will look you in the eyes and tell you “Everything’s gonna be ok and you’re doing the best you can.”

— Once rumored to be permanently closing, Theater District icon Ellen’s Stardust will reopen tomorrow for 25 percent capacity indoor dining.

— St. Anselm is now accepting dinner reservations, a first for the wildly popular Williamsburg steakhouse.

— If you choose to indoor dine today, read this first: