Editor’s Note: The challenges to restauranteurs continue as a new wave (and anticipated) spike in COVID strikes across the country, including New York, and here in Westchester County too. After we went to press with our editions with Stacey Pfeffer’s story which follows, Governor Cuomo issued a new order for statewide SLA, State Liquor Authority, licensed establishments (i.e. these are primarily bars and restaurants) to close their doors at 10 p.m.. “In theory, indoor dining, outdoor dining, you’re at a table, Cuomo stated, “You only take down the mask to eat or drink, but what happens is that setting is very hard to police; it’s very hard for people to maintain the discipline of sitting there eating and drinking and chatting and having a good time and laughing and keeping a mask on.”
Will local restaurants be using yurts to keep worried diners eating outside as the weather turns cooler? Just as some New York City restaurants have done as the holiday season approaches, area restaurants are looking for ways to attract diners while keeping them safe and also offer enhanced catering/take-out options during the Thanksgiving-New Year period. The statistics for the restaurant industry have been grim since COVID hit with one in six restaurants nationwide shutting their doors according to the National Restaurant Association and more are expected in the coming months.
The restaurant industry in Westchester is under different guidelines than New York City with regards to indoor dining according to Natasha Caputo, Director of Westchester County’s Tourism & Film. While NYC restaurants cap indoor dining to 25 percent capacity, Westchester restaurants are allowed to host indoor diners at 50 percent capacity. But meeting that capacity is challenging even in times prior to COVID. The holiday season is traditionally a “win” or “loss” season with upscale dining establishments noticing as much as a 60 percent decline in profits during a holiday like Thanksgiving when many people choose to cook at home. In times of COVID, restaurants can also no longer rely on holiday office parties to boost revenue during the season.
So what’s a restaurant proprietor to do?
Beloved Chappaqua eatery Le Jardin du Roi has seen its share of challenges from construction downtown to devastating storms to COVID. Still they remain a popular restaurant with a loyal following and their outdoor patio area has always been a choice spot for dining during warmer weather. But as the weather was turning colder, General Manager Wendy Egan knew they had to act fast so they were lucky enough to secure a rental tent, which has been in short supply due to COVID. The tent has a special non-propane heater as well as two openings to ensure proper ventilation and the same rules for spacing out diners applies to the tent as it does to the indoor restaurant. We plan to have the tent out for as long as we can,” said Egan.
Tents do require town board approval which can be a timely process especially when your restaurant is housed in a historic stone train station like the Pleasantville restaurant, Pub Street. Chef/Co-owner Mogan Anthony is actively working to get a tent approved at Pub Street as of press time. He’s also busy planning special holiday menus for take-out that will be available to view online on the restaurant’s website at least ten days prior to the start of the holiday.
While restauranteurs have to cope with the additional costs of tents, sanitizer and heaters, indoors some have also had the extra expense of upgrading their HVAC systems to ensure customer safety. “We upgraded our system to include HEPA filters. Once more people realize that we have HEPA filters, we hope more customers will want to dine inside with us,” says Egan. In addition to dining on-site, Le Jardin du Roi has excellent catering capabilities to help customers get through the holidays including BBQ as well as seasonal favorites such as smoked turkey, cornbread stuffing and mashed potatoes. Menus are posted on their website.
Jay Patel, the owner of Indi-Q in Armonk, is used to a flurry of guests for office holiday parties with a location on Old Route 22 next to several office parks. A popular choice pre-COVID was their elegant lunch buffet but with COVID they have now created individualized lunch boxes which feature an entrée plus rice, a vegetable side and nan bread. They’ve also increased their catering and delivery options for groups and can provide medium or large platters for groups from 15 people to 50 people which can come in handy for holidays ranging from Diwali to Thanksgiving to Christmas.
The roomy outdoor space has heat lamps spaced throughout the entire area and Patel also reports that customers are now getting more comfortable eating indoors versus at the beginning of the pandemic as the restaurant follows stringent protocols set by the CDC, state and local governments.
No matter what restaurants do to entice customers, COVID has been the most challenging time for them. “Local support is so important,” acknowledges Egan. “We always give back to local charities like the Chappaqua School Foundation with gift cards and such.” And now and throughout the holidays is the perfect time to show your favorite restaurant a little local love back.