Diners arriving for dinner this week at Plumed Horse, Saratoga’s Michelin-starred tasting menu spot, found the six-decade-old restaurant’s dining room less than half full compared to normal — not just of customers, but of the actual seats and tables. In fact, the restaurant has cleared out all but 15 of its 37 tables, preserving just 40 percent of its total seating, as part of a notably aggressive approach to making its customers feel safe and comfortable in light of the growing coronavirus epidemic.
Josh Weeks, one of Plumed Horse’s owners, tells Eater that the restaurant removed as many tables as it needed to in order to preserve at least six feet of space between them — a distance twice as far, even, than the three-foot rule recently imposed in Italy. Part of the reason he felt like the change was necessary is because dinner at Plumed Horse is so long: about two and a half hours on average, a long time for a customer to feel anxious about someone at a nearby table sneezing on them.
Removing that many tables (thus limiting the amount of money the restaurant stands to make) falls on the extreme end of coronavirus safety measures, but Plumed Horse isn’t the only local food business that’s implementing new policies designed to ease customer worries — and, ultimately, protect their health. Many national and local coffee chains have temporarily banned the use of personal refillable cups — Oakland-based Red Bay, for instance, recently announced both that decision as well as a no-handshake, pro-Wakanda salute policy. Also in Oakland, the Lakeshore Arizmendi bakery has implemented “hands free service,” having workers bag pastries instead of allowing customers to help themselves as usual. And many, many restaurants have stated their intention to be extra diligent about cleaning the surfaces at their restaurants.
Beyond the layout change, Plumed Horse is having all of its serving staff who touch tables multiple times during the course of a meal wear black latex gloves, which get changed any time they touch a surface in the dining room. And the restaurant is offering full shift pay to any of its staff who wind up needing to call in sick.
“The problem with the restaurant business as a whole, we’re always slow to react,” Weeks says. In his view, it’s irresponsible of restaurants and other businesses to take a passive, wait-and-see approach to the coronavirus epidemic — to only act when the local health department gives some specific directive.
That said, Weeks acknowledges the somewhat unique position that Plumed Horse is in: Fewer tables means less revenue, but the restaurant’s ownership is prepared to run at a loss this year. And given the restaurant’s long track record — it’s been open since 1952, and held its Michelin star for the past 12 years — they’re willing and able to take a long view.
So far, Weeks says, most guests have had a positive response to the changes. And for the smaller number of tables in the dining room? Most people haven’t even noticed.