Business

Customers Dine in Bubbles at UWS Restaurant as Uncertain Future Looms for Al Fresco

The clear, plastic bubble has a tent-like enclosure with sides that can zip open, and it has become very popular with customers as restaurants hope the outdoor dining deadline will be extended

NBC Universal, Inc.

Looking to sip some bubbly, in a bubble? Look no further than the Upper West Side's Cafe Du Soleil.

Owner Alain Chevreux had to find a creative solution as his eatery faced two problems: How to draw in customers, while also continuing to host outdoor dining as the colder weather months approach. So Chevreux went online and ordered one of the bubbles that went around a table, giving the diners a unique — yet safe — experience that could keep them warmer and protested from the elements heading into the fall.

The clear, plastic bubble has a tent-like enclosure, with sides that can zip open. He liked the bubble so much, he ordered 15 more.

And his idea has been very popular with customers as well. Now, his outdoor tables can still bring customers in even on rainy or windy nights — something many other restaurants cannot do.

"Our best partner in the restaurant business is the weather," Chevreux said. "Most of the people now when they make a reservation say, 'We want to be in a bubble."

There still is a massive hurdle for Cafe Du Soleil: New York City's outdoor dining program is set to expire on Oct. 31. It is still unclear if Mayor Bill de Blasio will extend it or allow restaurants to use outdoor heat lamps, but he said an answer will be coming soon.

"I want to see what we can do to address that fairly because I want to give every possible opportunity to our restaurants to succeed and survive," the mayor said Tuesday.

Indoor dining is set to resume at 25 percent in a little over a week. That comes at a time when a new survey of 450 restaurants shows 90 percent couldn't pay full rent in August — with more than a third saying they couldn't pay any of it.

It's designed to funnel additional money into restaurants suffering under pandemic restrictions. But some owners and server fear the surcharge could result in smaller dining tabs and tips. News 4's Gaby Acevedo reports.

City Council is set to hear a proposed bill next week that would expand outdoor dining and pave the way to allow heat lamps. One member said he is confident the timeline will be extended.

"The one issue that has brought us all together beyond politics is outdoor dining," said Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who supports the bill to allow heat lamps. "The great thing about outdoor dining is that we actually streamline the process. Anyone can do it as long as you have space in front of your business. We want to see if we can produce a similar kind of process for heat lamps as well."

Restaurants are hopeful for an extension and be granted the opportunity to use the heat lamps, saying the situation becomes much more dire without them.

"If you don't have the outside business anymore, and you have to deal with a 25 percent capacity restaurant, it makes it very hard financially to survive," said Chevreux.

New York City restaurants will be allowed to resume indoor dining on Sept. 30 with an extensive set of rules, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday. NBC New York's Adam Harding reports.
Contact Us