New Yorkers have forgotten their table manners.
When the city’s Phase 2 re-opening brought outdoor dining to the Big Apple on June 22, more than 3,000 restaurants were approved for al-fresco dining service and responded in creative ways. They’ve built decks, created outdoor gardens and tweaked their menus.
But they’ve also had to deal with rowdy or disobedient patrons who have been service-starved since March.
At Petaluma on the Upper East Side, director of operations Victor Jung said enforcing social distancing rules have become “challenging” for staff. Especially since the neighborhood’s watering holes have attracted hoards of revelers drinking on the street.
“On a nice weekend, the Upper East Side has become like Mardi Gras, with people going from bar to bar,” Jung told The Post. “By the time some of them sit down for meals, they are pretty smashed and they don’t social distance.”
When asked by staff to don their masks and not get too close to other patrons, he said, these drunk diners become irritated.
“We’ve seen people throw their mask on the ground. But mostly, they take it out by not tipping us. I’ve heard this from other restaurants on the block as well,” said Jung, who added that most of his patrons are cooperative regulars.”
The chef at a popular downtown restaurant, who asked not to be named, said donning a mask has become a polarizing issue among some customers.
“People aren’t necessarily listening with the whole mask thing, to be honest. When you tell them to put the mask on as they go inside to the bathroom, they get offended,” the chef explained. “Many of our customers are good but some get testy, saying they don’t think the government should be making those decisions for them.”
Dining on sidewalks and streets has also led to petty thievery.
“We’ve noticed some wine glasses missing. Some people … pay their bills and they just walk off with the glasses,” said the downtown chef, adding that he has heard similar tales from workers at other restaurants.
And after being cooped up for so long, some New Yorkers are loathe to give up their tables once they’ve claimed them — creating even more headaches for restaurants that now have fewer seats and even less opportunity to make much-needed profits.
“There should be guidelines,” the downtown chef said. “Some people don’t understand that flipping tables makes us money. That’s the predicament restaurants are in right now. We have limited seats, so we want to flip the tables, but we don’t want to rush the diners. Some people don’t understand the etiquette that you should sit at a table for about 90 minutes. Others think because they are spending money, they entitled to do whatever.”
Over at Ten Hope in Williamsburg, owner Bill Zafiros would like to turn over his tables faster but, “We know [diners] are going to stay longer because there is no other place to go for the night.”
Jung agreed, saying he understands and appreciates customers’ need to stay out of the house for a while: “People have cabin fever after all of these months.”
Meanwhile Anthony, a waiter at a casual Brooklyn restaurant who asked not to use his last name, called the return to dining a “really stressful experience” because of a lack of training and protocol for how to safely clear diners’ used plates, cutlery and glassware, beyond wearing gloves.
He also said that, despite of everything, some New Yorkers are proving as demanding as ever.
“There are people that come in and expect everything to be like it was pre-pandemic. Like if a menu item or price changes, it’s, ‘Oh my god, you don’t have steak frites anymore?!’ As a server, I don’t have control over this.”
On the bright side, Zaifros said of his customers: “They are tipping really well. We have been lucky.”
Additional reporting by Suzy Weiss