If o.d.o. by Odo opens its dining room for the first time in more than six months on Wednesday evening. The chef's counter, which helped create its intimate atmosphere, is empty.
Instead, up to eight guests are seated in a private dining room after their temperatures are checked for a set dinner prepared by Chef Hiroki Odo.
The gourmet Japanese restaurant, which received its first Michelin star last year, is one of many New York restaurants to adapt their dining rooms to reopen to customers during the coronavirus pandemic. After the city became the epicenter of the pandemic, government officials were more cautious about reopening their economy, fearing the return of overcrowded hospitals and uninterrupted sirens from ambulances. In the face of a $ 2 billion lawsuit from hundreds of restaurant owners, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced three weeks ago that indoor dining could return to the five boroughs on the last day of the month with 25% capacity.
The decision is intended to help curb the city's gastronomy losses caused by the crisis. In August, 87% of restaurant owners were unable to pay their full rent, according to a survey by the New York Hospitality Alliance.
However, the capacity limit of 25% means that restaurant owners have to get by with fewer customers and higher costs, e.g. B. with masks for employees and more frequent cleaning. O.d.o. Co-owner Satoru Yasumatsu said the speakeasy-style restaurant will keep its al fresco dining open for the time being until the capacity limit is raised.
Other New York restaurants, like the Porter House Bar and the Grill at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan, are holding back their dining rooms until capacity is half what it was before the pandemic.
Restaurant owners may not have to wait more than a few weeks to unlock the higher capacity limit. Cuomo has announced that the restrictions will be reassessed on November 1st and the restrictions could be relaxed as long as the infection rate does not rise.
But local health officials have been sounding the alarm in recent days over the rising number of cases in the city. Outbreaks in the Brooklyn and Queens boroughs have pushed the city's positive test rate to its highest level since June. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked dining in restaurants to an increased risk of developing Covid-19, although the National Restaurant Association identified the study's methodology as flawed and said it was irresponsible to limit the spread of the virus to one industry.
As o.d.o. tests the water on the appetite of New Yorkers to eat indoors. The private dining room is only open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays with only two reservation times: 5:45 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
"Our restaurant is small," said Yasumatsu. "Even in a private room we can accommodate a maximum of eight people, depending on the size of the groups. That is not enough to survive."
While the changes to the seating will enhance the experience of eating at the o.d.o. Yasumatsu said the restaurant plans to increase stakes on its food for the private dining room.
"It's the only option we're thinking about right now," he said. "And hopefully the city will let the bar seats open at 25% capacity."
Yasumatsu expects indoor dining to bring back higher paying customers. Current sales have fallen by around 50% compared to the previous year. Before the pandemic o.d.o. To offer first-time delivery and move tables outdoors, the restaurant could count on a customer to spend $ 200 on a multi-course Prix-Fixe meal called a kaiseki.
But also the skill of o.d.o. during the crisis has expanded to its menu. Instead of the traditional multi-course dinner menu, the alfresco dining options are available à la carte and at a lower price than Kaiseki. Yasumatsu said it was the first time that outdoor dining brought customers into the restaurant.
On Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made the expanded alfresco dining permanent and year-round for restaurants. The option previously expired at the end of October. As New York temperatures plummet, Yasumatsu and fellow restaurant owners are exploring ways to extend the life of tents and heaters.
Still o.d.o. not only relies on customers who want to eat in the restaurant, neither outside nor inside. It starts Sushi and House of Suntory Whiskey Events at a larger venue, a few blocks south of Flatiron. Yasumatsu said the restaurant is also working on delivering sushi across the city that caters to a wider audience than the usual expensive dishes, and is taking on its nationwide delivery through a possible partnership with Goldbelly.