As New York City relaunched indoor dining on Sept. 30, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, or USHG, unveiled plans for opening three of its signature restaurants — Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Smoke — with safety precautions that go above and beyond mandated requirements, including new air filtration systems, employee health screenings and dining room and menu reconfigurations.
State officials are initially limiting indoor dining to 25% capacity, and require that customer temperatures be checked and contact information for contact tracing be collected. Masks must be worn by employees and customers when not dining at their table. Bars must stay closed, and air filtration must be at MERV-13 or greater, or restaurants must adopt “additional ventilation” equipment, per guidelines posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here are more details on the Union Square Hospitality Group guidelines:
USHG partnered with Health Pass by CLEAR to implement daily health checks. Every day, employees have to take a wellness survey and get their temperature checked with a touchless CLEAR thermometer before beginning work. Employees are also required to wear masks, wash their hands every 30 minutes, and disinfect high-touchpoint surfaces regularly throughout the day.
“With this partnership we can ensure all employees are fulfilling our daily health checks while protecting team members’ privacy,” a representative with USHG said.
Customers are encouraged to make reservations ahead of time since dining rooms are limited at this time to quarter-capacity.
When they enter the dining room, they will have their temperature taken with a touchless thermometer, and privately verify their identity without compromising their personal data, and then will be asked to scan a QR code that will allow them to download and fill out a contact tracing form and answer a real-time health survey. Once their information and health status is verified, they will either receive a red or green signal based on their wellness.
Guests are also required to wear masks unless they are at their tables.
As part of their plan to return to indoor dining, USHG has reconfigured both their menus and redesigned their dining rooms in partnership with Rockwell Group to assure social distancing both among customers and employees, like rearranging foot traffic flow and putting up plexiglass partitions in front of host stands.
“At Union Square Café, we are not allowing delivery couriers or guests picking up a to-go order to enter the actual restaurant; instead we have created a special area outdoors where we will manage all of those orders in order to limit the movement of people in and out of the dining room,” a USHG representative said. “As another example, at Gramercy Tavern where we have restrooms with multiple stalls, we are kindly asking that only two guests use the restroom at time, and at Union Square Café, where we have individual restrooms, we have provided social distancing markers six feet apart for guests to wait their turn.”
But the social distancing reconfigurations aren’t just for guests. The restaurant group has also edited their restaurant menus to ensure social distancing in kitchens.
“While still thoughtfully and artfully prepared, we have trimmed down our menus significantly so that there is less prep and fewer cooks needed to execute,” the USHG spokesperson said.
At Gramercy Tavern, for example, they historically had a tasting menu and à la carte menu experience in the dining room. In the summer, when the restaurant pivoted entirely to outdoor dining, they switched exclusively to the à la carte menu, which is almost exclusively cooked via the restaurant’s wood-burning grill. This strategy will continue with indoor dining.
As the New York City guidelines say, restaurants must install MERV-13 air filtration systems “or equivalent or greater as applicable.” Most buildings only have MERV-8 filters, while MERV-13 is usually used to sterilize hospitals and other medical facilities.
In the case of the USHG, particularly in light of the high demand for MERV-13 facilities, they have upgraded their air filtration and purification systems to imitate equivalent air filtration quality, the company said.
“The UV light purifies the HVAC unit and filters themselves, while the bi-polar ionization technology releases positive and negative ions into the air, causing particles including bacteria, viruses, and mold spores to cluster together,” the USHG representative said. “These clusters are then large enough to be captured by filters with a MERV-8 rating or higher, which we have also installed in each of our restaurants. According to the HVAC specialists we consulted, this system offers the equivalent filtration that just using a MERV-13 filter would offer.”
Of course, if an outbreak does occur, the restaurant group has a contingency plan in place, helped in part by their contact-tracing plan.
“We’ve implemented a comprehensive ‘decision tree,’ a preventative SOP [standard operating procedure] which outlines outcomes for various scenarios we anticipate at this time,” USHG said. “Examples of scenarios we have planned for range from an employee feeling ill with non-coronavirus systems, a guest (or contact tracer) relaying that they have tested positive since dining with us, and many other permutations.”
Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]
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