As New York City enters phase two of reopening, restaurateurs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten are anxiously awaiting the new normal after shutting their doors for more than three months.
The city is predicting 5,000 restaurants will begin offering outdoor dining as part of the phase two reopening.
The restaurant industry has been hit particularly hard by coronavirus. The mayor’s office said spending at New York City restaurants was down 90% in late March, compared with the same time last year. That decline accounts for more than $1 billion in lost revenue.
With so many restaurants facing financial hardship, Vongerichten and other restaurant owners are lobbying lawmakers to force insurers to cover business disruption claims.
The insurance industry says policies typically exclude viral infections and require physical damage to the property from a covered event. Insurers argue there’s no way to underwrite a pandemic risk.
But Vongerichten said the government forced restaurants to close and insurers should cover at least some of the costs of the disruption.
“We’ve been paying so many years for insurance, we have spent about $25 million over the last 10 years. I feel they should step up a little bit to help us,” Vongerichten said.
At Vongerichten’s 15 New York City restaurants, he said customers can expect big changes as they begin the transition to outdoor dining.
“We are really operating in the new world of Covid. We will not do menus anymore,” he said.
Instead, his restaurants will use QR codes to reduce contact between servers and customers. Diners will find a QR on their table that will allow their device to pull up a menu, place and order items with their server and eventually pay their bill. It’s all part of keeping guest contact to a minimum but also making sure to maintain the experience diners expect.
Vongerichten said he employs 2,000 people across his New York City restaurants and that he will be hiring extra people to do additional cleaning. While most of his employees went on unemployment insurance, he will be slowly hiring them back and hopes to have 75% to 80% back by the fall. In his Paris restaurants, 90% of his employees are back.
New York City’s restaurant industry includes more than 50,000 eating and drinking places, providing 865,800 jobs and accounting for 9% of the employment in the state. In 2018, restaurants statewide rang up $51.6 billion in sales, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Vongerichten’s restaurants will also be making big changes by adding delivery options at all venues. For example, you will now be able to order from restaurants such as JGR, which in the past did not offer delivery.
The French chef’s two restaurants in Shanghai closed their doors on Jan. 25 and returned two months later. This experience has helped guide his planning when it comes to reopening in New York City.
“We are excited to go back to life,” he said. “People are hungry for our food and ready to get back to eating at restaurants again,” he added.