Among all the curious responses to the COVID-19 crisis, the weirdest might be the reaction of most New York City restaurant critics and reporters to the return of low-capacity indoor dining. They are opposed to it — fiercely. We’re all going to die! Those who disagree are “—holes!”
Bizarrely, a whole class of journalists is now acting to destroy the very industry on which their livelihoods depend.
During last autumn’s short-lived restoration of indoor dining, through the winter months when only outdoor service was allowed and, most especially, since the indoor resumption approved by Gov. Cuomo began on Feb. 12, the drumbeat’s been unrelenting.
New York Times critic Pete Wells wrote in September that Cuomo was risking “another outbreak in New York so restaurants can have dining rooms that are three-quarters empty.”
His view has not mellowed since the original 25 percent capacity limit was upped to 35 percent. Maybe he’s just weary of the reviewing grind after more than 10 years on the job.
I’ve covered restaurants for longer. I’m confident in New York state’s official data which found that a scant 1.43 percent of new COVID infections — a figure taken from actual contact tracing, not based on vague CDC and academic pronouncements stemming from “models” — originated inside restaurants, compared with more than 70 percent that occurred in homes.
Never mind. Eater.com critic Ryan Sutton has howled against indoor dining time and again, most recently under the headline “Cuomo’s reckless return to indoor dining values NYC restaurants over lives.”
Sutton, who’s astute in restaurant-industry economics, writes that back-of-house employees are disproportionately at risk of infection — but pays only lip service to the economic and psychic toll taken on jobless workers and their families.
Perhaps the solution’s to simply let “government” pay all their salaries, which former members of President Biden’s virus task force proposed in a recent New York Times op-ed column. Or, as Grubstreet.com’s Rachel Sugar blithely put it, “Keep everything closed and just pay people.”
The New Yorker staff writer Helen Rosner claimed that the mortal danger of indoor dining was beyond debate and those who insist on enjoying it are selfish flaunters of settled science. She used the “a-word” in a tweet to characterize those who disagreed, and cited findings from two universities, one of which (Stanford) deemed restaurants “superspreaders” based on zero clinical evidence. In a tweet, Rosner agreed with a friend who called indoor diners “a–holes — certainly a useful contribution to the discussion.
Only New York magazine’s Adam Platt allowed any wiggle room: “I wouldn’t condemn [indoor dining] for the record although I personally wouldn’t do it in NYC,” he told The Post by e-mail. “Call me a member of the rigorous outdoor dining camp,” he added, although he recently reviewed Stone Barns in Westchester indoors.
Last week, Hearth chef/owner Marco Canora called out the critical hypocrisy. He posted on Instagram, “To all the remote working food journos who’ve suffered no pain of lost income and who have strong opinions about restaurant operators who choose to open for indoor dining, you might consider employing some more empathy toward those you claim you want to protect — the cook, the server, the porter. These folks don’t have the luxury of working from home. They are hungry and anxious and more than willing to take on some risk, don a mask and work indoors.”
Why are critics so hostile to indoor dining? Remember that New York City, with all its restaurant restrictions and closures, has seen 27,000 COVID deaths to date while the whole state of Florida has suffered only about 3,000 more despite having nearly three times the Big Apple’s population and looser dining regulations.
Journalists united against indoor dining might be genuinely motivated by health fears. But there’s more than a whiff of woke about it. Remember, Mayor de Blasio declared last summer that indoor dining signifies “entitlement,” even though most of the low-paid restaurant workers are anything but entitled, and “restaurants” include many more cheap pizza, burger and dumpling joints than fine-dining locations.
Maybe they’re all taking their cues from Hizzoner, who last August characterized “indoor dining” — an activity that includes a day laborer sitting down for a $3.99 Egg McMuffin — “as obviously a very optional activity, which some people do a lot who have the resources and others can’t do at all because they don’t have the resources.”
Other chefs and owners have yet to join Canora in his condemnation of critics, possibly because they fear retribution when normalcy is restored.
But they needn’t worry: The journalists’ own words suggest they’ve lost interest in eating out entirely in favor of super-spreading woke baloney on stale bread.