Too many “experts” see restaurants as optional for the economy as a whole. But right now they’re the only economy we have.
A recent New York Times editorial lamented that elected officials “seemed more concerned with reopening bars and restaurants than safely reopening schools.”
Yet our cafes, bistros, brasseries, trattorias, steakhouses, izakayas, shawarma shops and dumpling lounges are the lifeblood of the city.
Labor Day was supposed to herald a full-scale comeback to Manhattan workplaces. But office occupancy rates remain stubbornly stuck at 20%, according to authoritative research service Kastle Systems.
Stores, long the backbone of urban commerce, continue to close at an alarming rate. The local death toll includes Lord & Taylor, Barneys, Century 21, Neiman Marcus, JC Penney, Papyrus and dozens of sites from Gap, Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers. ABC Carpet & Home could also be the next to go.
The city’s hotel industry is “mired in a depression,” according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Although some hotels have reopened, revenue per available room has fallen 67% since 2019.
Of course, it’s great to be back on Broadway. But dining out is the only truly functional part of New York’s daily hustle and bustle.
In the face of big hiring challenges, supply shortages and fears of COVID-19, our restaurants have stood up and brought their industry back. The scene will only get stronger as vaccine rules remove lingering concerns about the dreaded Delta variant.
The cranks of the media want it. Mainstream food media highlights the misdeeds of exploited and underpaid workers, predatory chefs, “cultural culinary appropriation” and the so-called (but debunked) meal inside risking more than it takes. enjoy on the plate.
Meanwhile, the frenzy of dining out (and spending big!) Is evident to anyone walking the city streets. Dining rooms and outdoor areas are jam-packed – with some clients saying they won’t go to the office for fear of contracting the virus. I overheard such a conversation in Balthazar, where I refrained from intervening to point out that the Soho Brewery was three times as crowded as any normal office.
As businesses and retailers continue to downsize, restaurants are hiring as fast as they can attract workers. We have lost many places but new ones are opening to replace them. Beloved favorites that closed their doors last year are coming back to life, including The Grill, Barbetta, and the Grand Central Oyster Bar. Top-tier restaurants that served dinner only, such as Le Bernardin, Marea, and Le Pavillon, now also open for lunch.
Teleworkers tired of lounging in pajamas disguise themselves again to eat in restaurants. Men again wear sports jackets and ties. A friend told me that she “fails to dress for work”. She came to Pastis for lunch with a chic jumpsuit and a Stella McCartney handbag that would be right at home in any hallway of corporate power.
Restaurants also restore vital energy to our streets. Busy sidewalks make people feel safe. Bustling concentrations of restaurants from Lenox Avenue in Harlem to Stone Street in FiDi are drawing even the most crime-fearful residents out of their homes for the first time in ages.
All of this is cause for celebration.
Politically motivated doomcasters and common grumpy people who carry an irrational hatred of restaurants can tell all the lies they want. But most New Yorkers know better.
The way out of the pandemic goes through the doors of our restaurants.