With Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) lifting bar and restaurant restrictions, Ithaca bars are starting to adapt to the new changes by hiring new staff while focusing on customer safety.
One local bar, Bar Argos, said their strategy moving forward will focus on listening to their staff and the advice of medical experts, ensuring that they are able to keep all customers and staff safe as capacity increases, according to Tippy Ard, manager of Bar Argos.
Throughout the past year, outdoor dining has been a viable substitute for the bar’s tight, indoor space. Previously, the bar was located in an enclosed area of the Argos Inn, filled with people moving in and out of the inn and buying drinks. Moving dining services outdoors has permitted greater compliance to health regulations and provided hotel guests a greater sense of security, Ard said.
One of the challenges that Bar Argos still experiences is late-night crowds, who Ard said are more likely to interfere with social distancing measures by moving between groups and shifting tables.
This dynamic is particularly difficult to manage with students, Ard said. Although students are relatively good about wearing masks, many tend to move around and join other groups.
To deal with this, Ard promotes communication between hosts and customers upon arrival, encouraging a conversation about social distancing expectations and seating in groups no larger than six people.
“We’ve found that six is sort of the sweet spot for us. There’s just a mob mentality that happens when you get to more than six,” Ard said.
Ard feels that lifting the food ban and curfews is beneficial to the business because it allows for customers to remain at the bar longer, but the change was overdue.
“I think a lot of those restrictions were put in place as a convoluted way to get people to social distance at the bar,” Ard said.
Despite the advantages that come with the eased guidelines, the speed of the change left Argos with little time to adapt to the new reality.
Although most of Bar Argos’s staff has returned and they are currently hiring in anticipation of higher traffic, staff at Ithaca’s Applebee’s Grill and Bar have been hesitant to return to work because of COVID risks, causing the restaurant to focus on hiring more staff.
“2020 was definitely one of the worst years in the history of restaurant management. Everyone’s tired, but no one is getting enough applications to staff restaurants right now,” said Vincente Lyman, general manager of Applebee’s Grill and Bar.
Lyman isn’t extending hours yet because of his inability to staff those extra hours, but the lifting of curfews is a step in the right direction of re-building the business, he said.
Unlike Argos, Lyman doesn’t think that eliminating the rule of purchasing food with alcohol will affect Applebee’s. Most people were buying the bare minimum amount to fulfill the food requirement prior to the change, which did not significantly stimulate business.
Verlette Diaz, a local bar visitor, sees the changes as beneficial. “I want everything to be normal,” she said.
Gabriel Paz-Soldan ’22 had not been aware that New York State had a curfew, but is looking forward to being able to go out for food later at night once it is over.
“I was not aware and I really wasn’t impacted either. But I had gone on to fast food places late at night, and they were closed, and I just wondered to myself, ‘Why?’ Because they’re normally open past midnight,” he said.
Bri Mccoy, an American University student studying virtually who lives an hour north of Ithaca, understands why the curfew was first introduced but is glad it will be lifted soon, to help local businesses get more business.
“It was definitely understandable at first, because of the pandemic. But I’m really happy that it started getting lifted to kind of help smaller businesses and restaurants,” she said. “My mom used to work in the restaurant industry and the diner that she used to work at started going under because of the pandemic.”
As bar and restaurant restrictions are easing, bar staff are hoping to return to a more normal environment, while continuing to remain flexible to rule changes and shifts as they come.
“I think one of the things that has really gotten us through this is trying to approach each obstacle as an interesting problem that can be solved,” Ard said.
Tamara Kamis ’22 contributed reporting.