Uptick in lunch reservations gives NYC restaurants hope for a continued recovery
The trend is obvious inside the restaurants.
Between the tail end of February and this week, the number of guests who come to Side Door, a pub and sports bar on E. 57th St., have tripled on certain weekdays, owner Istvan Nagy said.
“Soon I’ll have to add another person to lunch service,” he said.
The renewed source of revenue is crucial, he said—every last order helps him come back from two years of squelched sales. New York City lifted the requirement that all restaurantgoers show proof of vaccination on March 7. The nice spring weather also drives dining out, Nagy said.
The Union Square Hospitality Group restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art, the Modern, also reports solid sales, with Monday-through-Friday lunch revenue back at 92% of its pre-pandemic level, according to the restaurant’s figures.
For restaurants that stay open late into the evening, opening for lunch usually means staffing a second shift. Too many employees working with not enough guests is a drag, both on the eatery’s bottom line and on employee tips. Owners have to make a careful decision about when there is enough demand to open.
At Jasmine’s Caribbean Cuisine, owner Jasmine Gerald said she is getting an increasing number of requests for lunch. Since opening the restaurant in Times Square in November 2020, she said, she has set a start time of 4 p.m. on weekdays.
She is watching the neighborhood’s midday traffic carefully and said she has noticed that lunch is picking up for others nearby.
“We are thinking about opening next month for lunch,” she said. “We’ll do Thursday and Friday and then take it from there.”
In fact some spots are so busy that they have been unable to accept catering orders through Great Performances, the Bronx-based catering company that had found a way to bolster its business with collaborations to bring its food into office dining rooms.
“Now they are getting so busy, they can’t do the lunch for 400 anymore,” said Jennifer McMahon Elliott, vice president of strategic partnerships at Great Performances. Elliott, who oversees the contracted restaurants and corporate accounts, said that in-office daily service catering was also making a comeback.
Despite the positive trajectory, workers’ hybrid schedule can make it hard to predict how much food to order and staff to schedule, Nagy said.
“When there is an office day, you know,” he said. Dining rooms fill up—both at lunch and at happy hours beginning as early as 4 p.m. He explained that might give a restaurateur the impression that a certain day of the week—say, Tuesday—is back, when in fact it might have been something about that particular Tuesday that brought people in, such as a visiting client or a required meeting.
“Then two weeks later, you have the same day without workers,” Nagy said, leaving him questioning his views about Tuesdays being busy.