March 26, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 41°F


Commentary: Restaurants need support amid COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone. It has changed the way we interact and conduct business as a society forever. Almost every industry has been altered in some way by the regulations taken to ensure people’s safety. 

The restaurant industry, which thrives on tourism and the ability for people to gather together in a space, has been hit extra hard. Because COVID-19 is an airborne illness, people gathering into tight spaces is no longer a reality. The days of putting 100 people into a small bar back-to-back are over indefinitely. This is as true in Ithaca as anywhere else. 

Since Ithaca is a college town, the local economy depends on the nearly 30,000 students who inhabit it while school is in session. With Ithaca College and Cornell University’s decisions to move to online schooling in March 2020, and now hybrid classes in 2021, the customer base for businesses, especially restaurants, in the greater Ithaca area has decreased. 

As the pandemic continues, even as vaccines are slowly being rolled out, I encourage people to support their local restaurants through take-out or outdoor dining when it becomes warmer, and if it is safe to.

When COVID-19 first started becoming serious in March 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo enforced numerous restrictions in hopes to stop the rapid spread of the virus. Many of these restrictions targeted the restaurant industry directly. These restrictions included no indoor bar services, mandating all alcoholic beverages be served at a table in addition to food items and early closings. The restrictions also forced restaurants to lower their capacities based on the square footage of the establishment and what types of safety dividers they could put in place.

All of these restrictions, on top of a drastic drop in customers, hurt restaurants financially, causing many to close their doors. 

As a waiter at Pasta Vitto Restaurant and Lounge on The Commons, I witnessed, firsthand, as the restaurant made the difficult decision to close due to the fear and restrictions. All of the employees, including myself, were encouraged to apply for unemployment. It has yet to reopen. Many of the 865,800 restaurant workers in New York state suffered a similar dilemma.

One of the only reasons restaurants in Ithaca have been able to stay afloat is their ability to adapt to this new environment and offer takeout or to-go orders. This type of business allows the restaurant to serve customers with minimal contact. In Ithaca, many restaurants have changed their interior spaces to fit this model, putting tables up close to the front door with plexiglass dividers. This way, when customers come in to pick up their order, they do not have to stay inside that long, and they are the proper six feet apart from the staff. Especially when it is colder, citizens of Ithaca should look to this safer alternative to support our local restaurants and the many people whose livelihoods depend on them.

I have seen many large groups of people attempting to sit inside at small establishments; this is not safe for the customer, nor the staff who have to work in close quarters around people who aren’t wearing masks. Customers also do not need to provide any proof they are healthy which increases the risk. 

It is important people only choose to eat indoors if they are in a smaller party and follow the rules and regulations religiously, such as mask-wearing and social distancing. Otherwise, take-out is a perfect option. Ithaca has delivery options like DoorDash, Ithaca To Go and Grubhub, that will deliver straight to your door with zero contact. This is probably the safest option. 

We can still support our local businesses while following the rules and keeping one another safe and healthy.