You recognize the New York City health department letter grade in the restaurant window, and maybe even the Michelin seal. Now, you might also want to look for a blue-and-white sticker that says “Safe Eats.”
The sticker represents membership in a new nonprofit organization of the same name, introduced Thursday, that has set standards for what it deems to be the safe operation of restaurants for on-site dining, takeout and delivery during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The effort has started with a small collection of restaurants in New York City. The chef Dan Kluger joined Safe Eats for his restaurant Loring Place in Greenwich Village, where he has been selling takeout meals and has tables outdoors. He considers it to be a “response to often confusing directions from government agencies.”
That is the main draw for restaurants: In the absence of consistent, up-to-date government standards for safe restaurant operation during the pandemic, Safe Eats provides a list of safety measures to follow. It is also meant to reassure diners that the member restaurants have made a commitment to follow those rules.
Safe Eats was started by Carlos Suarez, who owns a group of Greenwich Village restaurants, including Rosemary’s and Claudette; and Yann de Rochefort, the founder of the Boqueria chain in New York and other cities. Also among the founders and participants in management is Zero Hour Health, a company that provides health and health-crisis management to restaurants, partly through its app, Zedic.
The organizers of Safe Eats said that they reached out to the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio for input, but that the office showed no interest in getting involved. The health department has its own list of guidelines that restaurants can consult. “As the city continues to reopen, we’re committed to helping our restaurants safely adapt to the changing circumstances,” said Avery Cohen, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio.
Roslyn Stone, the chief operating officer of Zero Hour Health, said the rules are changing all the time. “No two days are the same,” she said. “How can you keep up with it?”
Mr. Suarez said that he and Mr. de Rochefort were “spending so much time trying to stay on top of all the latest Covid guidelines,” citing more than a dozen agencies they had to monitor. “What if there was a single source for safety guidelines that we could rely on? How great would that be for us.”
In addition to providing the guidelines culled from government agencies that member restaurants must agree to follow, Safe Eats also relies on the expertise of Zero Hour Health and other restaurant consultants.
Safe Eats gives advice for operating during and after the pandemic, offers training, guidance on monitoring employee health and daily updates on regulations changes — and gives restaurants the window decal.
Restaurants, which pay $69 a month to join, must agree to comply with the protocols. As of now, the organization does not inspect restaurants for such compliance, though Mr. Suarez said that it intends to at some point. Currently, diners just have to trust that participating restaurants are actually complying with the regulations. “We’re keen to start certification, but we don’t know when,” Mr. Suarez said.
Member restaurants also display a poster that lists the rules the restaurant has pledged to follow and includes email contact for consumers to provide feedback. ”The channel for complaints by consumers or staff is there,” Mr. Suarez said. “It’s not perfect, but a great first step.”
For now the rules published by Safe Eats only apply to New York City restaurants; those in other areas can join without knowing the details that apply to their communities. Safe Eats hopes to expand into other cities in the United States and abroad. In addition to the founders’ restaurants and Loring Place, members include Reverence in Harlem and Delicious Hospitality’s Charlie Bird, Legacy Records and Pasquale Jones. Safe Eats has also been endorsed by the Independent Restaurant Coalition, the New York Hospitality Alliance and the James Beard Foundation.
Other organizations, including trade groups like the National Restaurant Association and the California Restaurant Association, have also published guidance for safely operating during the health crisis, but they do not require compliance or charge restaurants to be certified. (The National Restaurant Association has had a restaurant management certification course with a fee, but that has existed for many years and was not designed for the pandemic.)