Would you like a rapid COVID test as an appetizer? That's the approach City Winery in New York is taking to safely keep indoor dining open for patrons.
Part of a national chain, City Winery is one of Manhattan's largest restaurants. It also boasts the city's largest wine bar and multiple performance spaces. City Winery just moved into its spacious new digs at Pier 57, but it can only fill it to 25% capacity due to New York's strict social distancing rules for indoor dining during the coronavirus pandemic.
In late November, City Winery launched a pilot program that offers mandatory rapid COVID tests to patrons who want to dine indoors. For $50, guests will submit to an antigen test with BD Veritor analyzers, which the restaurant's website says has more than a 99% rate of accuracy for negative results. City Winery employees are also tested, so patrons can feel assured everyone in the place on those days will have tested negatively.
The COVID testing is currently only available at City Winery's New York location. There are 12 other locations throughout the country; Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C. are currently closed because of the pandemic.
How it works
The pilot program is in place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to start; City Winery is open the rest of the week for socially distanced dining at 25% capacity, but no testing will be available. (It is unclear why this schedule was chosen.) Patrons must prepay for their tests at the time they book their reservation using the Resy online platform.
Once they arrive at City Winery, patrons will complete a temperature and wellness check followed by a nasal swab conducted by a certified healthcare practitioner. It takes 10 to 15 minutes for results; individuals will enjoy a glass of City Winery Bubbles as they wait outside. Those who test negative will be able to enter the premises -- masks on, of course -- and will enjoy a socially distanced evening of indoor dining. Those who test positive will be given a PCR test that will be sent to a lab for analysis. The results of that test take 24 hours; needless to say, anyone testing positive will not be allowed to dine.
Once inside City Winery, patrons will be greeted by a host of other safety protocols, including:
- A Merv-13 air filtration system, the likes of which are often used in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare settings.
- Tables set six feet apart to enforce social distancing.
- Employees wearing gloves and masks.
- Ongoing sanitization of tables, chairs, door handles, restrooms, and other high-contact areas.
City Winery's website says, "Opening our new venue is a process, and our 'new normal' will continually evolve, but one thing remains constant -- your safety (and ours) is of paramount importance."
Should other restaurants follow suit?
At first blush, City Winery seems to have the right idea. With another lockdown looming for New York restaurants, it might be worth it for others to roll out their own COVID testing. And with winter weather already hitting the Northeast, it's not as if City Winery can rely on outdoor dining to sustain their business.
But will people want to tack on the $50 test fee to their bar tab? It seems that way for City Winery fans. In a recent email to its subscriber list, City Winery reported that the limited Tuesday/Wednesday reservations the first week were fully booked, so the restaurant is onto something.
However, not everyone is ready to pop a cork and celebrate. Some critics say City Winery should remember it's a restaurant, not a hospital or medical facility. While City Winery is attempting to prove how restaurants can stay open responsibly during the pandemic, there's the potential for disaster should a patron have a false negative test.
The bottom line
It's commendable that City Winery is being proactive in its efforts to stay open. But complications can arise when a restaurant's focus expands from the culinary world to the field of healthcare. If New York's COVID numbers don't improve, a lockdown might force a closure, despite the best intentions. And that's bad news for both restaurants and their commercial landlords.