Local restaurant owners have spent lots of time and money over the past few months ensuring that their dining spaces were compliant with guidelines issued by the state Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, while also trying to bring customers back to their eateries.
Vito and Anna Cortesiano have hired additional staff at their restaurant, Salvatore’s of Elmont, to clean and sanitize all the tables and chairs, and to ensure that everyone who gets up from a table to use the restroom or get a drink is wearing a mask. If not, a Salvatore’s staffer will offer one.
The Cortesianos also spent several weeks this spring building a fenced-in outdoor dining area on the vacant lot next to the restaurant — complete with a brick floor, a waterfall and plants — and recently installed a tent with space heaters so they can continue to offer outdoor dining during the winter.
“We did everything we could do to make the outdoor dining magical, as we have installed lights, music and holiday decorations,” said Anna, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband. “We wanted to have the same vibe we had when we did indoor dining.”
At the restaurant’s third anniversary on Nov. 4, the tent was filled with fall decor and colorful balloons, and patrons posed for photos near a haystack filled with pumpkins. They were offered Uncle Louie G ice cream and cupcakes sporting the Salvatore’s logo, and anyone who was dining in, either in the tent or at two indoor tables, received a bottle of champagne.
But not everyone is comfortable dining in during the pandemic, Anna noted, so the restaurant is continuing to offer daily specials that are available for pickup or curbside or contactless delivery, and families who are struggling financially during the pandemic can reach out to Vito on Facebook for free pizza and pasta.
“Things are different — our business is different,” Anna said, “yet we believe we need to do the best we can during this pandemic to continue to support our amazing customers and community.”
Similarly, Theodore Delis, the owner of Alpine Restaurant, in Franklin Square, said he “tried to do the best for customers to be comfortable.” He is seating patrons six feet apart and offering an outdoor dining area inside a tent with heaters. Inside the restaurant, booths are separated by acrylic glass, and hand sanitizers are readily available. The restaurant also has disposable menus, and all staff members wear masks and gloves to “protect the customers and protect ourselves,” Delis said.
Other local restaurants, however, will no longer offer outdoor dining. They include Little Enrico’s Pizzeria, whose employees have their temperatures taken each day and where masks are required, and Trotters Bar and Grill, which has glass partitions between bar seats as well as a display of hand sanitizers. Trotters employees monitor patrons for compliance with the bar’s mask mandate and occupancy limits, and sanitize all surfaces, including salt and pepper shakers.
Cheng Du, a Szechuan restaurant on Hempstead Turnpike, has enough space for diners to sit six feet apart, according to manager June Kwan. The restaurant has been open since May, and about 80 to 90 percent of its business remains takeout and delivery orders. Still, Cheng Du employees are sanitizing menus and surfaces, and all employees must have their temperatures taken.
“It has been improving,” Kwan said of the business, “but it’s still not as good as before.”
To drum up business, the restaurant has been advertising on social media, and is offering new customers 30 percent off on their first order using DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats.
“We have been struggling,” Kwan acknowledged, but added, “Every day is different.”