Like many people during the Coronavirus pandemic I’ve missed going out for meals at restaurants. Living in the Greater New York City area offers an unending array of excellent restaurants serving great food from all over the planet. Great and interesting food can be found in both expensive and inexpensive restaurants.
In Connecticut where I live, today is the first day of what is being called phase 1 or a ‘soft re-opening’ for non-essential businesses such as outdoor dining, offices, retail and malls, museums and zoos, university research and outdoor recreation businesses. The state pulled back on opening hair salons only a few days ago saying it wanted to give salons more time to get ready. I suspect that since it was not known for sure what might open on May 20 until a week ago, it was confusing as to exactly what should be done to re-open.
We’ve ordered takeout/take-away a number of times during the 9+ weeks of the pandemic. Being one to truly enjoy dining out in restaurants, the takeout experience in general is….meh. It makes me feel totally guilty that we’ve not had more takeout meals at area restaurants that we visit. I know these restaurants need the business. Our small takeout order helps. Every takeout order helps. But aside from pizza and sushi, most restaurants meals just don’t travel well. And even when the restaurants re-jigger their menus to offer fewer, less-expensive choices, the results are uneven at best. Yes, you can reheat the meal, put it on nice plates, pour a glass of wine and it’s…nice. But it’s far from being a quality restaurant experience.
Our company does work for the restaurant industry and it’s one of the toughest business in which to succeed. As a friend of mine who’s been a successful restaurateur likes to say, ‘If you want to make a small fortune in the restaurant business, start with a big fortune’. Something that has been said about other business as well. I saw chef Tom Colicchio recently interviewed and he put it plainly and I am paraphrasing, ‘The place will smell like Clorox, the servers and staff and patrons are all wearing masks, you are sitting some distance away from other people, you have to order the drinks with the food and are expected not to linger. That’s not what hospitality is about’. Right on Mr. Colicchio.
Danny Meyer, of the Union Square Hospitality Group, feels similarly and is in no hurry to open his restaurants in NYC when finally allowed. At 25% or 50% capacity restrictions, for how long can a restaurant fine dining or otherwise expect to survive? There will be those that embrace the return and will shrug off the changes but there are just not enough of them to make up the shortfall. Personally, when I finally do go out to a restaurant the first and most real reason would be to be around other PEOPLE! I am thinking I’d enjoy a pub like atmosphere, burgers, chicken wings and beers, (and SPORTS!) more than I would enjoy dining with guardrails. I realize that a pub with half or a quarter of the people will not have the same energy as before.
Ultimately, I am just not ready to go back to restaurants to have what I expect will be an ok, but muted experience. I probably will try it once or twice in a few weeks to see first-hand what it is like. But as Mr. Colicchio noted, I don’t think it will be what people expect or continue to patronize, when it comes hospitality.