These days, the food and beverage scene in NYC is almost unrecognizable. Once bustling bistros are now cautiously spacing tables, limiting capacity and struggling to maintain staff amid the precarious balance of curfews, mandates and scurrilous patrons.
But in the face of dizzying and complex re-openings, New Yorkers continue to unite and uplift the strained restaurant industry. Through various programs, social movements and careful re-openings, we’re fighting to protect the people and places that define so much of NYC’s charm, culture and life force.
Quiet Kitchens of Quarantine
At some point since the beginning of the pandemic, every restaurant across the country has found themselves in the soup, so to speak. Whether their doors closed for days, weeks, or months, restaurateurs and their employees struggled with the duality of protecting and providing for their families. Street vendors packed up their carts as streets fell silent. Many NYC establishments ultimately closed their doors for good, breaking the hearts of dedicated diners and staff.
As the months pressed on, many restaurants shifted their focus to providing take-out and delivery. Menus adapted items to be takeout-friendly, and offerings like to-go cocktails made their glorious debut. Food and beverage workers found themselves on the frontlines alongside other essential workers, throwing caution to the wind to keep their families afloat.
Saving Private Dining
After watching neighborhood eateries and watering holes stutter to a stop, many New Yorkers couldn’t stand by and watch the tasteless tragedy take place. As chefs, servers and bartenders struggled to make ends meet with no end in sight (and even fewer employment opportunities), friends, neighbors and complete strangers staged a bold rescue.
Platforms like #SaveNYCEats launched initiatives to support the food and beverage community, offering out-of-the-box special offers like private dining experiences or take-home meal kits to generate relief. The United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) set up nationwide fundraisers to support out-of-work barkeeps, while major companies like Miller Lite donated to rescue strapped food and beverage workers. Communities began rallying around their own, especially in NYC.
Reviving Restaurants in NYC
More than a year later, as we are seemingly still trying to ease our way out of quarantine, many restaurants are still in the trenches. Many restaurants are still unable to resume “normal” operations amidst a flurry of ever-shifting health guidelines, legal battles, and potentially contemptuous clientele.
However, as dining curfews lift across the city, many NYC restaurants are planning stellar comebacks; most of them will reopen with modifications and precautions in place, curbing the possibility of taking a step forward and two back.
With a glimmer of hope on the horizon, and a grain of wisdom, chefs all over the city are putting their creative juices to work brainstorming innovative ways to return to gastronomic glory in a safe manner. Propane heaters, for example, are becoming permanent fixtures on outdoor dining patios to encourage al fresco dining, even as the crispness of fall settles in.
The Favorable Future of Food
Food and beverage in NYC may never look the same, but perhaps in a good way. Through the turmoil, the toughest of the tough have prevailed, but they’ve also become better at the core. F&B workers (both active and veteran) seem to have formed an ironclad alliance to take care of one another, to support each other through thick and thin. We can only hope the city of New York can continue to mirror the respect and uplifting we saw last year, and treat these ever-essential workers with dignity and kindness.
There’s more than meets the taste buds brewing in NYC’s food scene. The food and beverage scene in NYC has proven itself to be a rough and tumble group, able to roll with the punches and adapt in the face of adversity. So as we re-learn how to eat, drink and be merry again, remember to take it like an industry pro –– with a grain of salt.