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How the Fine Dining World is Responding to the Pandemic

how the fine dining restaurant world is responding to the coronavirus pandemic

Our Food Editor Nicole Douillet always shares a monthly dispatch from the world of food and wine. In lieu of her usual update of news about new restaurants and star chefs, this month she’s sharing stories of the heroes within the world of fine dining who are responding with care and concern during this terrible COVID-19 pandemic. And she has suggestions on how we can all help save our favorite restaurants and bars.

everything is different in the world of fine dining

In the scant few weeks since my last report on the world of fine dining in early March, it feels as if the world has turned upside down. Like so many other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has shattered all of the norms of the food and beverage industry.

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Sadly, this month doesn’t bring news of any new restaurant openings, as the global hospitality industry has largely been shut down due to the novel coronavirus epidemic. Most cities in the US and abroad have forced restaurants, bars, concert venues, and other places where people convene in groups to close in order to slow the spread of the virus.

This has been a catastrophic blow to restaurant and bar owners and their staffs. Nearly 400,000 people in New York City alone earn a living in the service industry and most of them are currently out of work. Across the globe, restaurants and bars have shuttered. The ones that remain open are largely reduced to take-out and delivery orders. 

JoAnn Clevenger in 2015 at Upperline restaurant in New Orleans. Photo Credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The annual James Beard Awards have been postponed to summer 2020. The nominees were originally to be announced in mid-March, but now that announcement will also be pushed back.

How the Fine Dining World is Responding to the Pandemic

focusing on staff members

Owners have struggled to find ways to keep employees on payroll to avoid them losing their medical coverage and other benefits. Personally, I know several owners of restaurant groups who are up all night worried for their staff – whether they’ll be able to pay their rent or feed their families.

Many have struggled with whether or not they should open and provide takeout and/or delivery service – will it generate enough revenue to cover the costs of operation? Will their staff members be safe? There are no easy answers or solutions.

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I love the service industry and I worry for its future. Many restaurants have set up charitable funds, the proceeds of which will go to helping employees feed their families and cover other basic needs while they are unable to work.

If you would like to and have the means to, call your favorite local restaurants or visit their websites to see if they have a fund set up. If not, for an article that lists some global and US charities that are also offering support for the industry, click here

How the world of fine dining is responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Brad Vogel paddled on the Gowanus Canal to drum up support for local restaurants. Photo Credit: Emon Hassan for The New York Times.

Other things you can do? Consider buying a gift card (or cards). Doing so potentially gives a restaurant immediate income and the gift certificate can be redeemed at a later date. Purchase merchandise on your favorite restaurant’s website. Or buy shelf-stable products from your beloved eateries, to help them stay afloat – and up your home cooking game.

follow-up on the food network

To keep a focus on the fight for survival by restaurateurs all over America, Guy Fieri is remotely filming three special episodes of his Food Network show, to be called Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: Takeout. Each episode will be a chance to look at how four chefs that have previously appeared on the show are attempting to get through the current COVID-19 crisis.

free meals for the first responders

During this time of unprecedented financial uncertainty for themselves—as well as the same health concerns facing everyone—a wave of restaurants and chefs across the nation are stepping up to feed the healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

Some restaurateurs have repurposed their kitchens to be able to make and donate food to hospital workers, nursing homes, police departments, and others who are on the front lines fighting this pandemic.

How the world of fine dining is responding to the coronavirus pandemic. In Atlanta, Forza Storico’s executive chef, Michael Patrick, left, and a co-worker, Jake Pardee, packaged meals for Emory Healthcare workers.Credit…Dustin Chambers for The New York Times.

Chef Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park

Daniel Humm, chef and owner of Eleven Madison Park, transformed his three Michelin-starred restaurant into a community kitchen. Through the financial support of American Express and others, Humm was able hire back roughly 20 former employees at minimum wage. They’ve partnered with their suppliers to access fresh ingredients.

Now his team is able to produce roughly 2,000 free meals per day which are then delivered through a partnership with Rethink Food, a nonprofit organization that uses excess food from grocery stores and restaurants to make free or low-cost meals for New Yorkers in need.

how the fine dining restaurant world is responding to the coronavirus pandemic

How the fine dining restaurant world is responding to the coronavirus pandemic: Chef Daniel Humm is partnering to feed first responders. Courtesy Photo.

Dishes coming out of Eleven Madison Park, with Chef Humm on the line, include chicken rice with roasted cauliflower, braised veal cheek with couscous and roasted carrots, and pasta with romesco sauce, served with house focaccia.

Chef Jose Andres at World Central Kitchen

Not surprisingly, James Beard Humanitarian Award winner, chef José Andrés, has transformed all of his restaurants into community kitchens to feed those in need. His nonprofit World Central Kitchen has also been partnering with restaurants in Austin and San Francisco, among other cities, to help them transition to providing meals for hospital workers.

how the fine dining restaurant world is responding to the coronavirus pandemic

How the world of fine dining is responding to the coronavirus pandemic. World Central Kitchen volunteers are helping to feed medical workers and first responders.

Restaurant 886 in the East Village

East Village Taiwanese restaurant, 886, has begun preparing and delivering free bento boxes to NYC hospitals to feed emergency workers. The restaurant is currently open for delivery and take-out and is using 100% of the proceeds to help its staff. So far, they have delivered 2,773 bento boxes to area hospitals (not bad for a tiny EV restaurant!).

Field Trip in Harlem

In Harlem, FieldTrip chef-owner JJ Johnson is providing his specialty rice bowls to the staff at Harlem Hospital Center, one of New York’s official coronavirus testing sites.

Emon Hassan for The New York Times.

There are many more stories like these, of the hospitality industry rolling up its sleeves and helping the best way it knows how – by feeding people. 

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farm to food bank

Speaking of feeding people, food banks have seen massive spikes in demand during this crisis. If you went to the grocery store at the beginning of this crisis and stocked up on a palette of dried pasta and other non perishables, consider donating some to a local food bank.

In addition, there’s a strange thing happening in the food supply chain in the US. Restaurants (and by extension, college and corporate cafeterias), arenas, stadiums, cruise ships, airline companies and others in the hospitality industry made up a significant amount of the demand for food in the US.

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

Now with all of those places shut down and not placing orders, millions of pounds of produce, meat, dairy, and grains are rotting in the fields or storage areas. Meanwhile, many areas of the country face empty shelves a grocery stores. In San Francisco, a friend recently ask my brother (who is a frequent baker) if he has a “hook-up” for flour. 

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Thankfully, grocery chains and food supply companies that have traditionally worked only with restaurants are forging new partnerships to try to solve for this. Kroger recently partnered with Sysco and U.S. Foods (both mostly restaurant suppliers) to share labor in an effort to keep their shelves stocked. This isn’t a perfect solution, however.

Since these products were primarily purchased by restaurants, they were packages for restaurants. There are a lot of moving pieces to make this tradition work, so farmers and food producers are scrambling to make ends meet. With luck, the federal government will sort out a lending package to help these producers and purveyors stay in business. Without them, it will incredibly difficult for the food and beverage industry to return to business as usual.

How the Fine Dining World is Responding to the Pandemic

For all of us who love restaurants and bars and have deep loyalty to the hospitality industry, this is a time to think creatively about ways to help. Brighter days will come, and we have to work to ensure that our favorite eateries and bars will be there so that we can share them together.

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For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier Newsletter hereAnd see luxury in a new light.

Nicole Douillet is a Wall Street executive and lifelong lover of food and drink. She is currently the Food Editor of Dandelion Chandelier, and a senior advisor to several fintech companies. Nicole serves on the Advisory Council for Action Against Hunger | ACF International. She is a former junior Olympic skier, serial restaurant regular, and two-time chili cook-off champion. She lives with her wife and two little ones in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where her kids’ favorite neighborhood restaurant is Lilia. Nicole is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame.

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