Are there really more rats in restaurants now?

When the alfresco dining park of a bustling Brooklyn wine bar recently started to smell funny, the owners didn’t give it a thought. “All the parklets smell weird now,” said the restaurant group manager. “It’s the Wild West.” But on a particularly sunny, almost wintry day, with the sun beating down on the outdoor facility, it started to smell particularly… rotten. It looked like something was dead in the raised space under the parklet’s wooden floor, and there was no easy way to get to it – “without literally tearing up the entire parklet,” says the restaurant manager, who asked to remain anonymous, to avoid becoming the face of a story that is, it must be admitted, a little crude.

After a full day of deconstruction and thousands of dollars in material and labor costs, a carpenter removed a dead rat from under the parklet, then put the wooden floor back up. “Moving outside has exposed the restaurant in general to so many issues that we just didn’t think about as we struggled to rebuild a business during the pandemic,” said the restaurant manager. “This summer the rats started to come out of the subway in a way I hadn’t seen in over 10 years in New York City.” At another popular Brooklyn restaurant, the condition of the rats under the outdoor dining structure deteriorated so much that, according to a gardener and landscaper, “they had to rebuild the floor to clean up what was lying. under the parquet “.

The problem was not confined to New York. In March 2020, a New Orleans resident told CBS News they watched a swarm of “about 30 rats around the corner, feasting on something in the middle of the street,” claiming that they had never seen anything like it. Also in Chicago, packs of rats have given up their usual nocturnal eating habits to forage for food during the day. In Los Angeles, demand for pest control services for a woman has skyrocketed during the pandemic. As of November, there had been more than 21,000 reported rat sightings at 311 in New York City – a steep drop from 2019 and previous years, according to the New York Times. Stories are similar across the country: As food sources become scarce, rats are hungry – and daring.

Rats, of course, always make their presence known wherever there is leftover food to scavenge. If you live in a large city, there is nothing particularly shocking, or at least unusual, about someone scurrying through a rubbish heap or onto the sidewalk, most of the time being alone for a while. that you both go about your own business. However, for anyone who has spent the past year dining out, this extremely seedy time is a whole lot different. But are there really more rats rushing through our cities since the pandemic? Or, since we’ve set up a camp to eat on the sidewalks and streets and wherever space permits, are we just more aware of the creatures that have always been there?

According to an expert, it is actually possible that rat populations may have declined during the pandemic. Bobby Corrigan, an urban rodent, told KCRW that he believes that while there are “a lot less rats because of this pandemic because it puts so much stress on the rat colonies,” changes in the availability of food sources (our sources of food) have disrupted their eating habits – and sent them to the streets in broad daylight.

While the pandemic had all we developing new feeding schedules and generally living in quite strange ways, the rats were also reacting to a strange new world. First, with the restaurants closed and everyone at home, they had nothing to eat and were frantically looking for food. There were horror stories of hungry rats cannibalizing each other. Then, as restaurants reopened and diners poured into makeshift outdoor dining facilities, food was plentiful again. And suddenly the rats were everywhere, running over the feet, leaping from the bushes and showing up in all the streets where there was food to eat.

After seeing a big one run under a maze of tables in New York, a guest remembers that they “decided to eat somewhere else that night”. Another restaurant fan on New York’s Upper East Side remembers his birthday last summer, when, after dropping off a “fair amount of coins” at a fancy dinner party, they spent the evening in company. of mice and rats running around their feet. the whole meal. “I saw them a lot more than usual,” says the birthday guest. “They also like to eat out! On a recent night out at the bar with a friend, I sipped my gin and tonic as a constant stream of cat-sized rats scrambled back and forth within a foot of our door. beautiful exterior configuration.

According to Dr Brittany Campbell, a scientist and entomologist at the National Pest Management Association, rats are really are behave differently from what they might have had before the pandemic. “It is truly alarming to see the increase in rodent activity that we have had as a result of the pandemic,” said Campbell, who echoed Corrigan’s assessment of the situation. “I don’t necessarily think rodent populations are booming,” she says, “but I think there has just been an increase in activity, because now rodent behavior has changed, and they go out during the day, they go looking for new foods.

While Campbell and Corrigan do not believe rat populations increased during the pandemic, it is undeniable that rats are all over at present. Their more visible presence has even helped spur a lawsuit filed by a group of New York residents in an attempt to force an end to outdoor dining in the era of the pandemic. Since the construction of nine outdoor eating facilities on her street, wrote Kathryn Artnzen, a Greenwich Village resident involved in the lawsuit, “the garbage cans are overflowing and the big black garbage bags are still piled up beside the restaurants and the shed. and, because of this, the rat population has increased enormously. The rats have taken up residence under the sheds and in the planters surrounding the sheds, creating a very dangerous and unsanitary condition. Rats are mentioned dozens of times throughout the trial, with one petitioner describing “dozens of rats” taking to her street.

While it is undeniable that the explosion of outdoor dining has had an impact on where rats live and when they go out to eat, it is wrong to blame dirty cities or bustling rat populations. only on restaurateurs. The rats in the Artnzen district were not necessarily a sign of recklessness on the part of restaurateurs. Instead, data suggests that when restaurants first closed and many people crouched in their homes to weather the pandemic, the rats increased their hunting radius, going further to forage for food. . Hungry and eager to travel during the day for their next meal, they have become regulars in many of our blocks for the first time.

“I think there was a lot of panic among the rodents [when restaurants shut down at the beginning of the pandemic], Campbell said. “They couldn’t find any food sources, they got a lot more cheeky at first, going out [in the] day. Pest control was seen as essential, so many of our pest control officers could still get out and work – thank goodness rodents are a threat to public health. ”

But even with rodent control measures in place, Campbell says problems – many of which are quite difficult to avoid – remain for restaurants and other businesses that operate outside. “One of the control measures we use for rodents is what we call ‘mechanical measures’ or ‘exclusion’, basically trying to keep rodents out of buildings. But you can imagine when we are outside, if there is a nice patio, there are no rodent barriers, ”says Campbell. “So you might not see rodents inside, because they can’t necessarily find the entrance, but a rodent can run and rush onto a patio quite easily because nothing is preventing it from entering.” . Diners have probably noticed an increase in rodent activity, which will have a direct impact on restaurants, although they may have [preventative] measures in place.

Fortunately, most diners seem to accept that restaurants are more or less powerless when it comes to controlling rat populations outside. “The people are super nice and they just appreciate that we’re always open, and they laugh a little bit about it,” says the manager of the Brooklyn restaurant who had to deal with the rotting rat. “I think in general there is a limit to how much we can protect outside guests from the vagaries of nature. We looked at building more permanent structures on the outside to keep them very tight and locked, but then you basically dine inside, and we don’t want to do that. We want to have options for people who are uncomfortable eating inside. There is certainly a compromise.

For now at least, the rats are likely to continue to run around most of the outdoor facilities at our favorite restaurants. But if you see a dart under your feet when you sit down, know that that doesn’t necessarily indicate a dirty kitchen or a restaurant misconduct. That said, Campbell cautions that rats can be carriers of many diseases, and if they are cluttering up your space, it might be worth moving out and mentioning it at the restaurant – in a gracious and understanding way, of cours.

Ultimately, barring unforeseen public health circumstances like, say, a new variant of COVID, Campbell suspects rats will back down again in the context of city life. “I think we will resume a little less activity and [fewer] observations, people can go inside [to eat]. And we were able to really revamp our pest control, professionals are allowed to come back in most commercial facilities, ”she says. “So I think we’re starting to see the population stabilize. As long as we don’t have to go back to drastic measures, I think we should get back to where we were with rodents. Soon I hope.”

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