Photo Illustration: Grub Street. Photo: Bettmann / Getty Images
We are only two days into November, but Thanksgiving reservations at Dante, which specializes in a bubbly Italian tour of the holidays, are already sold out. “We were fully booked within 24 hours,” says Nathalie Hudson, who owns the café and cocktail bar with her husband, Linden Pride. Just like in the old days, they will sit at full capacity, all 400 covers, cozy in the temperature-controlled indoors.
Thanksgiving 2020 was a patchwork quilt of experiments as needed: limited indoor seating, outdoor seating, pre-ordered turkey dinners to pick up, delivery day via apps. This year, chefs and restaurateurs are still struggling, but they are hoping for a banner day.
“People want to feel New York right now,” says Andrew Carmellini, whose classic American restaurant, The Dutch, has become a New York Thanksgiving stand. “They want to go to their favorite restaurants; they want to feel it. Nobody wants to cook this year, because everyone cooked at home last year. ” Reservations are “robust” at Porter House, chef Michael Lomonaco declares, “It’s coming back.”
It’s not just exclusive places that feel this desire among New Yorkers to leave their homes: At Veselka in the East Village, last year’s prix fixe menu went for $ 39. “I get a lot of different emails,” says third-generation owner Jason Birchard. “‘Are you obligated to do this? Do you have to take takeaway? Do I need to make reservations?'” He hesitates to make predictions – “many obstacles that restaurant owners face these days,” he laughs – but still I have a positive belief that it will go well. “
Josh Foster, who owns the exclusive local Stone Park Cafe in Park Slope, is not happy to sit and plan and hope. “I try to be extremely, extremely optimistic. If I have to go up to people’s houses and ring their bell and bring them down to the restaurant in person, then I do it.” While some restaurants are cutting back on their takeaway operations to focus on the in-house experience – Carmellini will offer a streamlined version across its restaurants; Dante will drop it altogether – Foster is involved in everything: indoor dining, outdoor dining, pre-pickup, If an average night brings in $ 5,000, he’s aiming for at least fourfold. “You’re talking about what could turn into a $ 20,000 day for us, and that does not even include the delivery and takeaway services,” he says.
Thanksgiving 2021 is obviously a party. But it is also, as restaurateurs are well aware, a chance to at least begin to recover from pandemic losses. Under normal circumstances, Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Williamsburg vegan comfort spot, Modern Love, would be closed on Thanksgiving. Instead of a month out, she works on the details in the special menu. “Like most restaurants, we’re not profitable this year, and it’s a day where you can really make an impact, so it’s really important to us that we stay open.”
But optimism is one thing; logistics is another. We’ve never had a Thanksgiving like this. How many people are going out, exactly? How many turkeys do you order? No one is safe. But with the boil of supply chain problems, there is pressure to figure it out quickly.
“When I started hearing all the rumors about the lack of supplies for the holiday, I contacted my suppliers pretty much right away,” says Matt Abdoo, chef and partner at Pig Beach, which will offer its traditional pick-up parties from both its Gowanus and Long Island City places. But it’s a gamble that secures 100 turkeys almost two months in advance. “If I don’t sell them, I get stuck with a bunch of turkeys I have to make money on,” he says. At midtown megasteakhouse Charlie Palmer Steak, the restaurant group’s “chef-culinary officer,” Harold Moore, is stuck asking the same unanswered questions. “Did I order too much? Did I work too little? I have no idea,” he says. “It’s a big guess at this point.”
Last year, Stone Park Cafe ran out of turkeys. That, says Foster, will not happen again. The problem had been the weather: the weather forecast sounded like rain, and then the weather turned out to be glorious and they could not keep up with the demand. “We were wiped out,” he says. This year, he has already ordered 16 birds, each at 16 pounds – 256 servings – and is ready to order more. He has learned his lesson: “I’d rather waste than be out.”
There are many, many benefits to eating outdoors in November, but the downside is that the changeable weather makes the numbers even harder to predict. That’s a big part of why Moscow in Williamsburg does not take any Thanksgiving reservations. “We do not know what the weather will be like,” she says, estimating she will wait until the second week of this month to write. “I just don’t want to open reservations and ruin someone’s Thanksgiving if things don’t work out.” (While spared the turkey intoxication, vegans are not immune to supply chain problems: “No maitake or oyster mushrooms on the menu” this year, she warns.)
While the general state of affairs among operators is cautious optimism, no one is quite ready to declare that this year’s Thanksgiving returns to business as usual. “I do not believe we are there yet,” Moore said bluntly. Prices will certainly be higher across the board, with rising food and labor costs reflected on Thanksgiving menus, though they still may not be commensurate with reality (“We did not want to scare our consumers completely,” Abdoo says). But we can be close. Carmellini, who will charge $ 135 for Dutch Thanksgiving pricing, is convinced: “It’s about being social right now,” he says. “People want to go to restaurants.”
Dante has actually fallen over a brand new Thanksgiving crowd. “There are a lot of people who did not travel last year and really wanted a place to spend Thanksgiving because they had no family,” Hudson says. “They came to Dante, and now this year they say, ‘It was so great, we want to have our family with us.'”