Coronavirus News: How dining experiences will change as restaurants reopen

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Restaurants make up the fabric, look and feel of New York City, and as many of them plan to reopen in the weeks ahead, they're making big changes.

The dining experience as we know it will be altered for the near future.

"We built a business on bringing people together so, you know, that's a really big challenge," said Dawn Casale, owner of One Girl Cookies.

For the past two decades, Casale has turned her cookie business into three separate locations in the New York City area. In March, she had to shut all three restaurants down to the public.

She went from 34 employees to just two, and while she's hoping to bring them all back, it will take some time.

"We're strategizing for so many unknowns," she said. "When do we reopen? How do we reopen? Which locations? What hours? What's the menu going to look like?"

She's one of more than 25,000 restaurant and bar owners in the New York City area trying to figure out how to survive and what reopening the doors will look like.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, says they're working on new guidelines to reopen safely.

"If the restaurant and nightlife industry is not at the core of our city's economic recovery, New York City's economy will not fully recover," he said.

Rigie says you can expect to see customers seated father apart, workers wearing face masks, and some restaurants using disposable plates and silverware. In addition, many will be doing online ordering and payments, limiting the exchange of menus, and only taking credit cards.

Plus, as summer arrives, more people will be seated outdoors where possible.

"The dining public will probably be more comfortable eating on a sidewalk than they would inside a restaurant, so how do we look at pedestrian plazas, areas of the street and repurpose it," Rigie said.

They're also pleading for city, state and federal help during this transition period.

"Government required us to shut down for the right reasons, but they also should be required to help us reopen and sustain us," Rigie said.

Meanwhile, Casale has been offering cookie deliveries during the pandemic, a service she's looking to expand.

"Bringing a little bit of joy in the day I think is more important than ever right now," she said.

But like many others, she isn't making a profit doing it and doesn't believe she will anytime soon.

"Once we have a vaccine and start to resume some normalcy in our lives, we'll get back to what we love," Casale said.

The Hospitality Alliance is also calling on the city to possibly cap third party delivery fees, because Rigie says it's very difficult for restaurants to make a profit.

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