New Orleans people are passionate about their restaurants and proud of the city’s dining scene.
Now, with so much changed for the business through the pandemic and with so much at stake for its future, many are finding new ways to support restaurants and reevaluating assumptions about the customer-restaurant relationship.
Instead of a conventional holiday party in this anything-but-conventional year, staff at the home improvement company MaxHome will convene via…
To help us all provide that support more intentionally and effectively, I asked people around the business what would help them most now, and what they wished more people knew.
Their feedback ranges from the pragmatic to the personal. They need customers to support them, to meet them at least halfway and to remember them.
Support now, to dine later
Some see gift cards to a favorite restaurant as a present that’s always the right size. These days, chefs like Frank Brigtsen see them as a “no-interest loan” from his customers.
“It’s a critical time for all of us,” said Brigtsen, who with his wife, Marna, has run Brigtsen’s Restaurant since 1986. “We’re in a period where any relief we had from the government is over, and we’re unsure when or if we’ll get any more.”
The downtown lunchtime standby Welty’s Deli still makes its gargantuan sandwiches and hefty salads. Owners Tina Welty and Donald Welty still g…
Gift cards are an easy way for people to support without venturing out or for fans of a local restaurant who are outside New Orleans to send help from afar. The same goes with cookbooks and other merchandise a restaurant may sell and ship.
Eat local, spend local, be local
The pain of the pandemic has not been distributed equally across the restaurant field. In fact, many large chains are booming, as a Wall Street Journal report found this fall, even as more independent restaurants shutter.
Making a simple choice to keep your dining dollars and holiday budgets closer to home provides direct support to keep local businesses around. Restaurant people say every one of these decisions adds up to help keep their doors open, and their hopes alive.
“I want everyone to know that your continued support means the absolute world to us,” said Edgar Caro, co-owner of Zocalo and Brasa in Old Metairie and Baru and Basin Seafood in New Orleans. “It is what’s keeping us going … it is what’s keeping our families afloat.”
Pause for patience
Even as they strive to serve the same dishes and give something like the same customer experience, nothing is the same for people who make restaurants tick. That’s why Phil Hare, co-founder of Beaucoup Eats on Canal Street, urges a little perspective.
“Please be patient and empathetic with us all in this time,” said Hare.
“The hospitality workers that are expected to maintain positive upbeat attitudes and always have a smile are dealing with hard times too, like lost or sick loved ones that they cannot visit or even overly stressed households due to lost wages,” he said. “We are people with families and feelings, too.”
Get in touch, get creative
When looking for culinary gifts, don’t rely only on what the internet shows you. Get in touch with restaurants directly, and get creative.
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Many restaurants have added business lines in the pandemic, and some, especially smaller family-run restaurants, may not have all their offerings listed online. You could be surprised what they can do, and it should be no surprise that they’re eager to accommodate, from restaurant merch to private cooking lessons to recipes.
Dine-in, the (new) old-fashioned way
For full-service restaurants, the best support is still coming out to dine and putting that full service to use.
That’s a message Melvin Rodrigue, president and CEO of Galatoire’s, has been telling his local customers and extolling in his industry advocacy role as chairman during this star-crossed year of the National Restaurant Association.
While takeout and family meals and other facets of the business help, nothing does more than letting full-service restaurants and the people behind them do what they do best, Rodrigue said.
It keeps more staff working and keeps the money that flows through restaurants going to the network of suppliers and vendors, from linen service to wine purveyors.
“At the end of the day, when we open the doors and turn the lights on and put our mise en place, we need to use it,” Rodrigue said.
Rethinking, and respecting, reservations
How you make — or break — reservations right now may make or break a restaurant.
As a customer, use whatever flexibility you have in your schedule to help the restaurants do more business.
While capacity limits have changed, one thing hasn’t: the popularity of a 7 p.m. weekend reservation. If you can dine earlier or later, and if you can dine on a weekday instead of a weekend, your business goes further for the restaurant.
“I think reserving a table when fewer tables are available has to feel like a privilege right now, and when people do it right, it’s much better for the restaurant,” said Amarys Herndon, co-chef along with husband Jordan of Palm & Pine.
Canceling a reservation you know you won’t make is always proper form. With dining room capacity reduced to 50% now, how restaurants hold and manage the tables they can seat is more critical than ever.
“Clicking ‘cancel’ on a reservation app may feel inconsequential to you, but it really matters here,” Herndon said.
Go to the source
An array of third-party companies are eager to get restaurant meals delivered to your door. All of them diminish the earnings restaurants get from their work and your business.
To make your support go further, go direct to the restaurant.
“We’re grateful for all our business, but if you have the ability to come pick up yourself please do that,” said Alexis Ruiz, who with her husband, Jordan, runs the Munch Factory in Gentilly.” A lot of us have added curbside pickup to make it even easier for you. If you can, why not skip the middleman?”
Stop the spread
Restaurant people live with constant anxiety that a positive COVID test could force them to temporarily close, and that continued spikes in case numbers could bring back stricter limits on businesses, and potentially close them for good.
You can help alleviate those worries by doing what public health officials have been pleading with us to do all along — take the safety protocols seriously, mask up, wash those hands and avoid larger gatherings.
“We just want people to follow the guidelines so we can get through this,” said Michael Gulotta, chef and co-owner of MoPho in Mid-City. “We’ll never get everyone back to work until we get the spikes down.”