On December 14, New York City shut down indoor dining for the second time in eight months, and Bowery’s Short Stories wrote their longest Instagram caption in awhile. “The question of what we do for New York’s freezing months is an open one. It depends a lot on whether people want Short Stories delivery and baked goods,” they wrote. “We know some of you will stop by no matter what for a hot drink outside, but that would not be enough. We’d like to keep pushing what we offer, but it would take a good amount of support from all of you. Long story short, TBD.”
The acronym pretty much sums it up. From Crown Heights to Chelsea, New York restaurants are trying to figure out how, exactly, they are going to survive a second-wave winter—especially now that another shutdown is expected after Christmas. Some have invested heavily in their outdoor dining set-ups: Lilia in Williamsburg, for example, partnered with American Express to create a village of heated yurts. Meanwhile, Olmsted transformed their backyard into what they call their “Cozy Cottage,” complete with heated tents, blocks of himalayan salts, and torches, as well as kits of hats, gloves, and blankets. Others are temporarily closed, like Lucien and Atomix, or are indefinitely closed, like 21 Club. Many are just allowing takeout now, like Gramercy Tavern or Union Square Café. The rest are taking it not just week by week, but day by day.
The cultural toll is immense: New York City is one of the culinary capitals of the world, its restaurants amassing 76 Michelin Stars. (Although any city dweller can tell you the many of the eateries with the most charm don’t hold significant critical acclaim at all.) So is the human toll: it’s estimated that 1 out of 4 people unemployed people in New York State work in the hospitality industry. Although restaurants have only been linked to 1.43 percent of Covid cases from September to November—74 percent are traced back to private indoor gatherings—the government can’t control who comes into our living rooms, so shutting down nonessential businesses remains the way they can slow the spread.
Estimates say that nearly two-thirds of New York restaurants could be out of business by January. So how can you help? A guide, below.
Order Delivery and Takeout
This one is simple: like a restaurant? Order from it. But do so with some conscious caveats. Call the restaurant directly—that way, they don’t need to share their profits with the app or online platform you sourced it from. However, if you really don’t want to speak to someone on the phone: ChowNow is a commission-free ordering platform. “Keep ordering. Even small purchases make an impact—cocktails to go, supplements to your weekly grocery list,” Deborah Williamson, founder of James Provisions in Prospect Heights, tells Vogue. “Remember to tip, and more than 15 percent if you can. Sales are down, which means tips are critical, especially on takeaway and delivery.”
Go Gift Shopping
Totes. Merchandise. Meal kits. Anything you can, really, from your favorite restaurant’s e-commerce shops. (Some thoughts: a sweatshirt from iconic, family-owned Italian restaurant Emilio’s Batallo, a festive negroni assortment from the official best bar in America, Dante, or Il Buco’s “holiday bundle” which includes their cookbook and a tray from John Derian.)
Many restaurants, in light of ever-fluctuating restrictions, have also launched commerce side hustles. Williamson, for example, now sells produce and wellness boxes, as well as bar cart essentials. Over in Manhattan, Cote sells ready-to-grill meats and recently launched a wine club.
Not in New York but missing New York? Go to Goldbelly. They have a whole section on New York food gifts—a dumpling pack from Nom Wah Tea Parlor, smoked Salmon from Russ and Daughters, wood fire pizza from Roberta’s, a burger kit from Raol’s—that can all ship nationwide.
Spread the Word on Social Media
Social media, with all its faults, is good for one thing: spreading the word. Have dinner at a great outdoor dining setup? Tag them, and maybe a follower or two will be inspired to make a reservation themselves. Donate to ROAR (Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants) and post the receipt on your story: studies show that people are more likely to give money to a specific charity if encouraged by a family or friend. Says Williamson: “Spread the word about the places you love. Post on social, always tag, tell your friends, keep the narrative going. DM restaurants directly to say hello or offer encouragement. We need it now more than ever.”
Keep Outdoor Dining
We know, it’s cold. But that’s what hats, gloves, and heat lamps are for. “Bundle up and venture to your neighborhood spots this winter. Restaurants are doing (and spending) everything they can to make their outdoor setup as innovative and cozy as possible,” says Williamson.
Contact Your Representative
While, yes, every little bit helps, let’s be realistic here: you can’t save every neighborhood haunt you love with takeout and to-go cocktails. In New York City alone, there were 23,650 restaurants as of 2019. They provided 317,800 jobs—60 percent of which were held by immigrants.
That’s where the nonprofit ROAR comes in. Their goal? To advocate for relief opportunities for New York restaurants on a government level. “We need a restructuring plan,” says ROAR founder Camilla Marcus, who closed her restaurant Westbourne in September. “We’ve never had a seat at the table for policy. We’ve never been considered in the lawmaker’s minds as the large employment force that we are and the beacons that we are for all of our communities.” Right now, ROAR is fighting for the service industry to be part of the current federal relief bill that’s being introduced to Congress.
So how can you help? “Call your representatives—I promise it actually makes a difference,” says Marcus. “Think about how much joy was sparked by a server who took care of you on your birthday, or a bartender that helped you on a hard day, meal that you count on every Sunday. We all need to be part of the solution. We need to push lawmakers to start to care.”
You can also donate on their website (or, by buying the cookbook Serving New York, whose proceeds go to ROAR.) Your donation will be used for their employee relief fund, which gives $500 grants to out-of-work servers, busboys, bartenders, and so on. Since the pandemic started, they’ve raised over $2 million in aid.