Restaurants Can Reopen Indoor Dining on Wednesday; Here’s How Some Local Spots are Preparing

Inside the Metro Diner, which is expected to get more changes to prepare for indoor dining.

By Megan Zerez

Restaurants city-wide are gearing up for the start of indoor dining, which can begin this Wednesday at 25% capacity. Many Upper West Side restaurant owners and managers said they’re also gearing up to let customers back inside, but they aren’t sure if it’ll help business much.

“It’s like a whole new kind of business,” said Fanis Tsiamtsiouis who owns two diners on the Upper West Side – City Diner on 90th and Broadway and Metro Diner on 100th and Broadway.

Some of the new requirements for this next phase of reopening include mandatory temperature checks for all customers, one-way walkways where possible, and mask usage until seated. In addition, at least one person per party must give their contact details to the restaurant for participation in contact tracing.

Tsiamtsiouis opened the diner for outdoor dining this summer. As the weather turns cooler, he’s said he’s been losing customers to rain. Indoor dining could help make up for those losses, but he’s not counting on it to bring business back to anything close to a pre-pandemic level.

“People are asking [about indoor dining.] Just because they’re asking doesn’t mean they’re coming though,” Tsiamtsiouis said.

As for outdoor dining, restaurant owners said they want to keep it going into the winter, but they are not sure if it’ll be feasible due to the cost of heating.

Tsiamtsiouis said that propane heaters could cost an extra $100 a day to run, and electric heaters were out of the question because they cannot be plugged into the restaurant’s existing outlets without a visit from an electrician.

“Do I want to do it? Yes. Do I think I’m going to be able to do it? I don’t think so,” Tsiamtsiouis said.

Sam Wong, who owns Jin Ramen, said that there’s so much up in the air, he’s still yet not sure if he’ll fully open indoor seating for his two restaurants.

Earlier this summer, clashing announcements from Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo made for a rocky reopening process for many restaurant owners and patrons, Wong said. Issues with the federal Paycheck Protection Program didn’t help either, he added.

“If I didn’t get the PPP loan [when I did], I wouldn’t be talking to you right now,” Wong said.

Jin Ramen’s Upper West Side restaurant on 82nd and Amsterdam relied heavily upon the nearby AMC theater crowd, Wong said.

“[After] the late shows at 10:30, people would come over, have a bowl of ramen and a drink,” Wong said. “But that’s all gone now.”

The ramen bar’s other location near 125th and Broadway has seen more business since Columbia University reopened, but it’s still a challenge to break even.

At 25% capacity, Wong will only be able to seat 12 diners at a time. He and other restaurant owners said they don’t want to ask customers to leave immediately after their meal, but with such limited seating, they worry that people lingering to chat would severely limit the number of customers they’d be able to serve.

Steve Olsen, general manager at Sarabeth’s on 80th and Amsterdam, says his restaurant will only be able to allow 18 customers indoors at any given time, which could prove difficult during the popular brunch service.

“Right now we’re just getting the restaurant in order — making sure that the tables are spaced apart, but so it doesn’t look too empty,” Olsen said. “You’re just so used to having tables everywhere.”

Even with the reduced seating, restaurant owners and managers said that they expect a bit of a learning curve at first.

“We’re trying to put up barriers in a layout so people know where to go, that they can’t just stand around with their masks off,” Olsen said.

Tsiamtsiouis said at his diners, the plan is to open an employee-only walkway to allow guests as well, so that there’s a one-way flow of people in and out of the restaurant. He says he’s putting lots of arrow decals on the floor so that people know where to walk.

The new contact tracing requirements might also take some time to catch on amongst patrons, Tsiamtsiouis said.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to want to give me a photo ID to have a Cheeseburger Deluxe,” Tsiamtsiouis said.

If you plan to dine indoors this fall, be sure to review state and restaurant guidelines before you go. Wear a mask over your nose AND mouth unless you’re eating or drinking, remember to follow signs and directions and be sure to tip your servers.

FOOD, NEWS | 19 comments | permalink
    1. Sarah says:

      Good luck to Metro Diner! I’ve enjoyed many a meal there.

    2. UpperWest says:

      Good luck to our local businesses fighting through this. I’ll be there, and tip as best I can.

      • Sid says:

        And if you’re nervous for indoor dining, still tip handsomely for delivery and pick-up during these trying times!

    3. Sid says:

      I wish the government would do more to help restaurants instead of forcing them to move to inside dining to stay afloat.

      Per the CDC, 40.9% of people diagnosed with COVID had dined out in the past two weeks, compared to 27.7% of people who tested negative.

      Madrid and London recently re-opened indoor dining, cases spiked, and they’re back to lockdowns with no restaurants.

      We need protections for workers and restaurants, not blind faith.

    4. Good luck Frank, we hope the diners make it through this challenging time!

    5. ANSWER:

      1.Send the homeless to Kansas City by bus & then

      2.Spend that $333,333,333 heretofore spent on luxury hotels on: retrofitting ventilation for city diners and restaurants.


      1. Less disease.

      2. Happier and better fed UWS residents.

    6. Christine says:

      I am super concerned that a recent report claims 87% of NYC restaurants could not make their full August rent.

      We will support our local restaurants and we hope others do, too. Safely.

      Good luck to all our neighborhood favorites and the staff they employ.

    7. Brian Ferguson says:

      And if you go there, think of the first Beastie Boys performance, one floor up.

    8. Lynn Lieberman says:

      Manhattan Diner is Open! We walked right in ~ people are sitting in booths very far apart from next occupied booth, paper menu’s, wrapped eating utensils – not their full huge menu. So glad they’re back!

    9. cpwpj says:

      Be sure to keep your mask on whenever talking to wait staff/employees. Sitting at a table doesn’t give you license to abandon the mask until you leave. You’ll be protecting others just as you expect them to do for you.

      • GeeWhiz says:

        Thanks Dad. Once food and drink is on the table, I’m doing what I went there to do.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        are you the mask czar? good try at the power-trip, but we are ignoring you.

      • Danielle Remp says:

        The New York State rules read:

        “Ensure patrons wear face coverings at all times, EXCEPT while seated; provided that the patron is over the age of 2 and able to medically tolerate such covering.” (Emphasis added.)

        • BMAC says:

          What is wrong with you people? It’s common courtesy I’m the current environment to at least TRY to mask up when talking to wait staff.

    10. Jeff Berger says:

      The one thing I miss about living in Middle Tennessee is you can’t get a proper Turkey Club or that butter cookie with the chocolate in the center. Do you think Metro Diner would deliver?

    11. GaryGlitter says:

      I love the Metro Diner! They always treat me warmly when I dine there solo! I usually get the broiled pork chops with apple sauce with a cup of chicken soup. And, they make the best homemade potato salad! Them’s some good eatin’! You can usually see your UWS neighbors dining there along with students and tourists. So please stop in and patronize The Metro Diner during these crazy/strange/normal times!

    12. Archie M says:

      It’s great to see some restaurants getting creative in these challenging times and unfortunate to see others struggling. Worse are those that put the dollars before the community. Up by my girlfriend there’s a Greek place (Broadway and 93) that has poor social distancing and live music on the side walk disturbing neighbors in every direction but they don’t care if it brings in customers.