How resilience is reviving the restaurant world
Faced with a crippling pandemic, the food world’s brightest minds are serving up plenty of forward-thinking solutions
Pose the question “What are you most looking forward to doing post-pandemic?” and you’ll get a million different answers. For some, it’s adventures like far-flung vacations and social soirees. For others, it’s the small treasures like spending face time with friends and family, or getting lost in a stroll among a crowd. But I think many of us would rank enjoying a stellar meal in a beautiful restaurant high on our list. We are eager to not only relish the experience of dining out, but also to support the tough, tenacious heroes of the restaurant industry who have weathered a brutal business year.
It’s no secret that the food and beverage world has been particularly hard-hit, but to appreciate the magnitude of the storm they’ve been weathering, it’s worth taking a closer look at the stats. By the end of 2020, over 110,000 restaurants across the United States had closed as a result of the pandemic, over 2.5 million jobs were lost in the industry. Restaurants worldwide have seen double-digit percentage declines in seated diners.
But there is hope on the horizon: the $28 billion in federal relief will be allocated to restaurants and bars as part of the massive American Rescue Plan. And according to a recent survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, 60% of customers called restaurants an “essential” part of their lifestyle. In other words: the public is craving to get back in the swing of dining out once restaurants are up and running more fully again.
In the meantime, chefs, restaurateurs, cooks and line workers, delivery service employees, and other members of the food services industry have shown incredible ingenuity and resilience as they adapt and pivot. Many restaurants and eateries have developed brilliant solutions to COVID-related challenges — and some of these are customer hits that are poised to stick, even post-pandemic.
World-renowned chefs such as Momofuku’s David Chang, Red Rooster’s Marcus Samuelsson, and Chez Panisse’s Alice Watershave launched online cooking courses to bring their fine dining expertise into customers’ homes. Foodies can also have fine ingredients and restaurant-quality dishes delivered directly to them via curated services like Goldbelly. The online marketplace works with fine restaurants to adapt popular menu items into shippable meal kits that allow buyers to recreate the luxury dining experience at their own tables. According to the company’s CEO, the site has doubled its business during the pandemic. (And no wonder: who wouldn’t want to try their hand at Stephanie Izard’s pork shank or Mashama Bailey’s buttermilk biscuits?).
And what about dining out? The experience may look different these days, but some of the clever adaptations that restaurants have incorporated to allow social distancing have truly taken off. Consider Alpenglobe, an innovative private dining structure that’s allowed many restaurants and resorts (including Telluride, Colorado’s French landmark La Marmotte and Montage Deer Valley) to continue outdoor dining operations even in winter’s coldest months. The snowglobe-like mini-domes are very much a practical remedy, but there’s no denying the romance and charm they also offer to diners. And though Alpenglobe was in business before the pandemic, the increased demand for outdoor dining kicked production into high gear (not to mention reservations — many restaurants that offered Alpenglobe tables reported sellout bookings during winter 2020).
Meanwhile, in New York, urbanites have been enjoying Pier 17’s rooftop oasis The Greens. The lofty escape, innovated by real estate development leader The Howard Hughes Corporation, launched in the summer of 2020 with picturesque patches of socially distanced greenspace perched high atop a structure in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport district for diners to meet and mingle in. With refreshing cocktails, fine finger foods, board games, and movie screenings in the summer, and cozy cabin accommodations along with heartier fare (and heaters) in the winter, The Greens offers a tempting outdoor escape for cooped up city-dwellers looking to go out on the town without compromising safety. It’s no surprise that the endeavor was a hit, and likely to make a comeback in future seasons.
Though the always-turbulent restaurant industry has faced profound struggles over the past year, and still has much ground to make up, there are reasons to look forward with optimism. After all, if any crowd can corral incredible grit, perseverance, and inventiveness to overcome a major obstacle, it’s the restaurant industry — the innovators who find inventive ways to make our taste buds dance with joy every time we’re lucky enough to share a meal with them.
Danilo Diazgranados is an investor, collector, and lover of fine wines and a member of the prestigious Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a fraternity of Burgundy wine enthusiasts.