Navigating The New Normal in NYC Bars

So far in New York City, we’ve made it through a total shutdown of bars and restaurants due to COVID-19, followed by a reopening for to-go service only. On June 22nd, we were allowed to open for outdoor dining as part of phase 2 of the reopening plan. Your favorite bars are starting to open up slowly but surely, and it is exciting! But being in a place that you’re comfortable, it can be easy to be a bit too relaxed about the COVID-19 guidelines. I’m here to remind you that we are still in the first wave of a global pandemic and ask that you continue to act as such when going out. Here’s how you can do that.

There are three simple rules to follow right now, wear a mask while inside or ordering, stay 6 feet apart from others, and stay within your group. If you aren’t able to implement these three simple rules, it may not be your time to reassociate with the bar world. I’ve never been great with crowd control or telling people what to do, but those implications were usually pretty minor at my calm bar. With the new guidelines, my ability to enforce these rules can be the difference between life and death. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true. We’ve seen bartenders and patrons alike are sick with the virus, in the ICU, or even pass away from it. Service industry workers are now risking their health so you can grab a meal or a beer, and we’re happy to do it, we ask that you show us and the pandemic some respect. Just because we are allowed out of our homes in some capacity doesn’t mean the pandemic is over.

Black Bottle with White Wine Glass

The most important thing you can do right now is to wear your mask. Whether you are ordering from a take-out window, inside the bar, or using the bathroom, please keep your mask on. I know it can be hard to adjust to this new normal and to wear your mask, but it’s perhaps the most crucial step you can take right now. If you go to the bathroom but forget your mask, covering your mouth with your hand and apologizing isn’t going to be enough. If you forgot your mask but want to order a drink, standing “farther away” while you order isn’t going to be enough. For the safety of us, yourself, and others, we need you to wear your masks. How you choose to implement these rules outside of my establishment is up to you, but if you feel you have the right to refuse to wear a mask, then I have the right to refuse service to you.

The second most important thing you can do is to listen. When I came out of quarantine to work my bar’s to-go service, I found it overwhelming enough. Now with outdoor dining allowed, I have customers inside the bar, using the bathroom, walking back and forth, lingering, and associating. Once you get your drink and pay, please promptly move outside. If I do have to ask you to step out, please do so immediately. I know that once you’re drinking and having fun, it can be a bummer to go home at 11 pm when we’re used to 4 am, but this is the new normal. If I give you an hour, 30 minutes, 15 minutes, and a 5-minute warning before closing, I shouldn’t have to come out at 11 pm and beg you to leave. Our days are stressful enough right now, I ask that you make them more manageable by listening and complying, no matter what bar you’re visiting.

Thankfully in my experience, patrons are usually pretty good on their own. I may have to tell a few people to go outside or remember their masks, but overall, we’ve curated a safe environment. I recently went to a bar by my apartment with a substantial outdoor space, so I thought it would be a safe place to be. As it turned out, it was a COVID nightmare. People were being allowed in with no masks; 10-15 people group photos were being taken with not one person wearing a mask; everyone was hugging and had little regard for personal space, let alone a 6-foot distance. It was a terrible experience and just went to show that if you let people hang out, they’ll hang out the way they’re used to, not how they should be.

That experience led me to think about service workers as a whole. The servers and bartenders at that bar had on masks and gloves 100% of the time I was there and did an immaculate job of upholding the new guidelines. It made me mad that service industry workers are expected to enforce these standards, but patrons aren’t. If we can stay cautious for 8-12 hours a shift even though our faces are sweaty from the masks and our hands our cracked from the sanitizer, then patrons should be able to do the same for the duration of their stay. You have to remember that while you’re there with your friends, you’re interacting with a handful of people. We’re interacting with tens to hundreds of people for hours on end every single shift. Our risk level is just as high as our stress level right now, and you have the power to make it easier for us. If you remind yourself that we are still in the middle of this thing, we can have fun, maintain our safety and avoid a regression in the industry.

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