This post originally appeared on April 25, 2020 in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.
A big theme I’ve seen in stories this week, both in the restaurant world and outside of it, is what the world will look like when reopened. It feels close but just out of reach in this moment.
In Hong Kong, restaurants operate at 50 percent capacity, require temperature checks, ask patrons to offer contact info, and only allow people to sit in groups of four or fewer. Branded mask-holders are sometimes supplied for the diners. Social distancing is (mostly) enforced. But people are OUT.
In Georgia, a restaurant community thrums with anxiety as a handful of operations prep for a grand reopening Monday, just a few days after the state’s governor released some (not super stringent?) guidelines.
California chefs are wondering out loud what a tasting menu counter at half capacity even looks like as they look toward May’s gradual easing of restrictions. Large restaurants in D.C. will probably be open by May 15. Some casinos in Vegas are already raring to go. Dallas patios are packed.
Against that backdrop, over in London, professor Vaughn Tan offers a contemplation on the role of restaurants once they finally do get the green light. He surmises the days of trophy dining, of destination restaurants, are over. Take how we’ve been living now — totally dependent on our local coffee shops, grocery stores, take-out spots, home cooking, and wine stores — and look at how restaurants have adapted — as charity hubs and grocers — and extrapolate.
He writes, “To survive as the consumer landscape changes, restaurants will have to pay more attention to their local customers than ever before. If the neighbourhood has many large families, a restaurant might succeed by offering cooked-to-order or reheatable meals in a range of portion sizes. If there are few grocers in the neighbourhood, it might succeed by selling pantry and grocery items. If there are community organisations in the neighbourhood, the restaurant might succeed by arranging to be paid to supply them with cooked meals.”
I think certain destination restaurants will still find ways to stay relevant, to attract a class of diner. But there’s a whole middle swath of businesses that are neither central to their communities nor special enough to seek out in this new world. A friend of mine owns such a place and is using his Paycheck Protection Program loan to completely remake his business, figuring this is not a pause but a complete rejiggering of diner behavior.
As Han writes, “Coronavirus will be with us for a while, but people will still have to eat. The restaurants that survive corona time will have figured out how to stay an indispensable part of that equation as the economy contracts and disposable income declines.”
— Shake Shack, Sweetgreen, Kura Sushi, and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, some of the big groups criticized for getting Payment Protection Program loans ahead of smaller businesses, all returned their loans (of $7 - 20 million). They got the money, by the way, because of a loophole requested by lobbying efforts of an independent restaurant coalition. Meanwhile, more funds have been added to the program.
— Masa, one of America’s most expensive restaurants, is doing a $800 take-out sushi box.
— In the UK, the hospitality industry will be one of the last released from lockdown. And it is asking for a nine-month rent reprieve. Meanwhile New York restaurants might get an eviction reprieve for a year.
— The SFPD is cracking down on patrons trying to go into restaurants without masks.
— How good Samaritans across America are helping their communities via Google docs and mutual aid networks.
— There are some hopeful signs coming out of the coffee world.
— How to stock a global pantry.
— Maybe the perfect quarantine cookbook is actually inspired by Elvis.
This week on the podcast
Daniel and I talk to Andrew Genung in Hong Kong about what the restaurant world looks like when restrictions are lifted. And we talk to Eater Atlanta editor Beth McKibben about the state of things in Georgia, where restaurants will reopen on Monday. Then we talk about the biggest stories of the week.
- As usual Gabrielle Hamilton chimes in with beautiful and moving piece about the the existential threat facing restaurants now and over the last half decade. [NYT Mag]
- Here’s a look at the 12-course takeout meal from conceptual high-end LA restaurant Vespertine. [@AndrewStellar]
- I wish I had quarantined in this gorgeous Austin house instead of my Brooklyn apartment. [Curbed Austin]
- Bill Gates’ outlook on the pandemic and recovery. [GatesNotes]