Reopening Nassau County is complicated. It comes with dozens of tasks that no one simply imagined would exist.
One of those burdens is figuring out how to get the economy back up and rolling, and that starts with the dining experience. It is unlikely that restaurants will be able to serve patrons inside of their establishments for at least a few more weeks, so it’s time to get creative. That’s what sparked the different townships within Nassau County to get creative when it comes to phase II of the reopening on June 10, when restaurants could begin serving dining outdoors.
“We believe extra capacity of sidewalk and street seating could make a difference for survival for restaurants and businesses,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.
As restaurants prepare for the boost in business, the Town of Hempstead and the county received $2 million in grants to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to business owners. They’ll have gloves, hand sanitizer, face masks and more as people begin to frequent restaurants once again.
“In anticipation of entering phase II here on Long Island next week, I believe it is imperative that the town work swiftly to allow our local restaurants to apply for outdoor dining permits,” Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth said. “Dining out is a fun activity that we have all missed for the last three months. We are all anxious to resume our normal lives, and this can help return a sense of normalcy in a safe and appropriate manner. Our residents and restaurant owners need this.”
The mental wellness aspect of returning to restaurants is one that should not be overlooked. A return to a semi-normal dining experience enables people to leave their homes, taking part in an activity with their family or friends. Who doesn’t want to get some fresh air?
“I try to frequent restaurants in the area because they’ve had to re-imagine their businesses during the pandemic,” Town of Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin said. “A lot of their doors have closed and a lot of them have done takeout. That allows them to barely break even.”
Clavin went as far as saying outdoor dining might stick around in the future, depending on its popularity, its success and, of course, what restaurant owners have to say about this unprecedented journey.
“The restaurant industry here on Long Island has certainly taken a huge hit during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Frank Borrelli of Borrelli’s Italian Restaurant in East Meadow said. “I thank Supervisor Don Clavin, Councilman Dennis Dunne Sr. and Councilman Christopher Carini for their proactive and innovative plan to provide restaurant owners with additional options for once we are given the green light to expand our services once again.”
In the Town of Oyster Bay, a major goal of phase II is to make sure people are getting off unemployment and returning to work once again.
“Just three months ago, Long Island downtowns were bustling with business and economic activity,” Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino said. “Restaurants and small businesses were booming, and empty storefronts were quickly getting filled. Unemployment was at record lows, and the stock market was at record highs. Since then, we’ve entered an unprecedented economic crisis. With unemployment reaching 16 percent on Long Island and safety protocols easily achievable, we joined with local officials to urge the state to include this critical sector of the economy in Phase II of his reopening plan.”
However, as outdoor dining began on a county road in Farmingdale, some issues did arise.
Restaurant owners based on Main Street in Farmingdale filled out applications to reopen their businesses with outdoor seating. Curran said her office was approving applications within a week of receiving them. But on May 29, a positive Friday afternoon, erupted in chaos. The Village of Farmingdale said restaurants could use their own tables on the adjacent sidewalk, but a Nassau County fire marshal told owners they need to use tables provided by the county.
“They told us we could do curbside dining at a table where you could go to a restaurant and pick up your dinner with no waitress service,” Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said. “Then, you could go sit at a table, eat and clean up your table. You could go to a restaurant, pick up your go-to order, go to village green, sit on one of the benches and eat your sandwich and drink your beverage. What they neglected to specify three weeks ago when this happened was that the village had to own the tables and chairs.”
“Having been on the board for 12 years and mayor for eight, the municipality never provided the tables and chairs out on the sidewalk for the restaurants. They were always owned by the restaurant. That’s where the first problem occurred. The second problem occurred when the governor announced on Wednesday that outdoor dining could be part of phase II. Then on Thursday, the state liquor authority announced that if outdoor dining is taking place on municipal property, for example, on a sidewalk, a government strip, a parking lot, a parking lane in the street or a loading zone, there was a plethora of forms to fill out.”
Curran said in order to stay in phase II and not move into Phase III without Governor Andrew Cuomo’s approval, restaurants do need to use tables provided by the county.
“The county fire marshal showed up and told restaurants they couldn’t use their own tables,” Clavin said. “He said they need to use tables provided by the county. The last thing people want to see right now is government red tape. They want solutions.”
As phase II continues and restaurant owners settle into the new normal, the key here is safety. Social distancing is required, and restaurant employees need to wear masks.
“There will certainly be many restrictions on restaurants once they are permitted to reopen their doors,” Saladino said. “Allowing for outdoor dining gives those establishments greater options to serve customers in a fun and safe atmosphere. While certain safety precautions will be necessary, such as limiting capacity, requiring workers to wear masks and enforcing social distancing, it can be done.”