Just a day before Governor Cuomo ordered all venues that seat 500 people or fewer to operate at half capacity, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged New Yorkers to continue to eat at restaurants, and emphasized that the virus isn’t transmitted through food and drinks.
“It’s complicated messaging,” said Mitchell Davis, the chief strategy officer of the James Beard Foundation, which announced Thursday that it was postponing its annual suite of spring culinary awards events in New York and Chicago until the summer. The organization has also canceled some upcoming events at the James Beard House in Manhattan, and is working on a set of health and safety protocols to distribute to restaurants.
“The biggest challenge we feel is how to be supportive of the industry, which is facing very real challenges, but be responsible when we are saying to people, ‘Go eat at restaurants,’ ” he said.
Without any clear guidelines and guest counts sliding each day, restaurants both big and small are trying to do what they can. Many are sending customers newsletters suggesting delivery or takeout options and emails about sanitation measures. Buffets are being replaced with à la carte items; line cooks are using more utensils and gloved hands to finish dishes; and communal silverware containers are being shelved. Booths and tables are being thoroughly wiped down between guests.
At Automatic Seafood and Oysters in Alabama, one of the few states that hasn’t had a verified coronavirus case, walk-in traffic has slowed, although reservations have not. But the staff is trying to prepare for what’s coming, and do what they can to protect public health.
“We are wiping down the telephones, the computer keyboards, the bathroom door handles — anything staff would touch in the back we are now very O.C.D. about,” said Suzanne Humphries, who owns the Birmingham restaurant with her husband, the chef Adam Evans. “We’re thinking of our guests, of course, but thinking of what changes we can do to protect everyone internally.”
That might even mean taking the temperature of every staff member before a shift starts. “It’s scary to think about, but we have to think outside the box,” Mr. Evans said.