Restaurant requires diners to take $50 rapid COVID-19 test before entering

November 19, 2020
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    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — City Winery at Pier 57 is launching a pilot program starting next Tuesday that will require patrons to take a rapid COVID-19 test before sitting down for dinner.

    The mandatory nasal swab will cost customers $50 and the results will be available within 15 minutes.

    "You'll show up, you'll be given a questionnaire and a temperature check and then you'll be given a shallow nasal swab," City Winery founder and CEO Michael Dorf told WCBS 880's Steve Scott. "It will be administered by a certified practitioner. While you wait, you'll be handed a glass of Bubbles from City Winery, so you can at least enjoy your wait while sipping."

    If the result comes back negative, customers will be allowed to enter the restaurant, where additional protocols will remain in place, including mandatory mask wearing and social distancing. Tables are also spaced eight feet apart.

    Employees will also take the daily tests, meaning everyone in the building have will have tested negative for COVID-19 that day.

    "We wanted to create a bubble so that people could feel that we were doing every single thing we could to keep them safe," Dorf said. "Without creating a bubble every single night there's no other way to really ensure pure comfort and the psychological safety net that customers want."

    Dorf said this added level of safety is particularly important as the weather turns colder and more people opt to dine indoors.

    "Maybe this is a bridge between now and a vaccine, but we know a vaccine's not going to get deployed and into people's arms until the spring or summer and it's going to be a cold winter. Its starting to get cold, it's cold out there right now today, and as much as we invested in our heaters for outside, it's too cold to dine outside. We're not Parisians and Europeans who are used to eating outside. It might take a couple of years until we get used to eating outside in the cold. New Yorkers are used to going indoors, without having something like a rapid test at the door, it's going to be really hard to do it safely this winter."

    As for the cost, Dorf said the $50 charge is what they're being charged by the medical company. "So we're passing it on," he said.

    He also admits he's losing money by having to test his employees, but it's what he feels has to be done to keep everyone safe.

    "The cost to test 40 of my staff members every day is a lot of money that we're eating," Dorf said. "So we're losing money trying this, but we want to see if both our customers and the public feel that this is a way to maybe proceed."

    While he'd like to see other restaurants add a rapid test to their safety protocols, he understand the cost poses a challenge.

    "It's expensive right now and we're lucky we opened a new concert hall at 15th Street and the West Side Highway in Hudson River Park so we have a lot space in order to have dining indoors, so smaller restaurants with smaller capacities this is an investment that's hard," Dorf said. "We're hearing that there's going to be much cheaper rapid testing coming into the early part of the year and hopefully that'll come fast enough that more restaurants will do this."

    Dorf hopes that the state, city or insurance companies could step in to help support a rapid testing effort for restaurants.

    "It would be great if we could get some financial support for trying this, but I think New York City restaurants could do this and if we could do it cheaply I think it's something people would really like," Dorf said.

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