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Where Does Fine Dining Go From Here?

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the restaurant industry harder than any event in recent memory. What, exactly, does the road forward look like?

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This past Wednesday, the Time Out Market in Brooklyn reopened after three and a half months of darkness. The popular waterfront food hall was forced to shutter operations in early March due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and spent the past three months extensively working on a plan to bring New Yorkers a safe way to once again enjoy a meal with friends or family.

“Our guests can properly distance themselves when they socialize and enjoy the summer weather without losing the fun atmosphere that makes the Time Out Market experience so special,” said Time Out Market CEO Didier Souillat in a press release.

Related: Restaurant Etiquette in the Coronavirus Era: 10 New Rules

While every corner of the economy has been affected by the coronavirus, the restaurant business has undoubtedly been hit the hardest. A recent Yelp report determined that in the United States, the restaurant industry has faced more closures than retail stores, beauty salons, and even fitness centers.

As the novel coronavirus spread throughout the world in the early months of 2020, restaurants scrambled to stay afloat amid country shutdowns. Six months later, the dining and hospitality industry is still trying to navigate how to operate a safe, successful, and profitable business as cities slowly begin to re-open.

Food consulting agency Full Heart Hospitality, led by Jason Rose and Matthew Jennings, has been at the forefront of the restaurant recovery process, offering its expertise on the current landscape of the food and beverage industry, and helping restaurants modify their business strategies to successfully adapt to a post-COVID society.

“The way that so many restaurants in this country have pivoted and reopened under these unprecedented circumstances is incredible,” Rose told Departures. “It takes grit, sheer determination and will to survive through this, and above all else it takes this beautiful unrelenting passion for service and hospitality.”

Related: Architects Share Predictions for the Future of Design After COVID-19

While every restaurant’s reopening plan will be unique to their specific circumstances, there are a number of common protocols that are becoming the new standard in the food industry across the board. Embracing new technology (such as contactless menus and payment options), overcommunication with staff and guests on the latest restrictions and safety guidelines being implemented, and diversifying revenue streams by expanding takeout and delivery options are some of the changes that Rose believes all restaurants must follow to successfully reopen.

“Redefining what success looks like is something that we and a lot of thought leaders in the industry have been thinking about for years now, and this is a potential opportunity to reset a lot of those things,” said Rose.

Restaurants that have been able to reopen have risen to the challenge. In Virginia, the Little Inn at Washington filled half of the seats in the dining room with life-size mannequins as a playful way to enforce social distancing inside the dining room, while in Melbourne, the acclaimed Attica reinvented itself from a fine dining restaurant into a bakery and home delivery meals service.

The most significant Coronavirus-induced shift in the food industry is, naturally, the food. As restaurants reconstruct their menus, they are shifting away from elaborate menu offerings, instead leaning into familiar recipes that will make customers feel at home. In Copenhagen, the storied Noma reopened as a pop-up burger joint; in San Francisco, SPQR introduced simple comfort food favorites to their menu; And in Seattle, fine-dining staple Canlis created an outdoor “crab shack” for its safe and social distance-friendly reopening.

“Now is not the time to be cooking for egos or press,” says Rose. “Right now people want comfort, they want a taste of how things used to be [pre-COVID], that we largely took for granted. And the really savvy operators are doing away with all the stuff on the peripheral so they can focus on giving people what they want as safely and as efficiently as possible.”

The final piece of the puzzle to successfully re-opening restaurants lies with the customers themselves. Patrons have to be understanding and empathetic to the new protocols put into place for everyone’s protection, and for the indefinite future, they must be willing to comply with a new handbook that is still being written.

Related: What the Future of Private Aviation Looks Like Post-COVID

“So much of making this work is people realizing that there are going to be a lot of new normals, and the sooner we all get on board the faster we can resume and get back to this new normal life,” Rose explained.

It has always been a fact that food brings people together, and as the world settles into its new normal, restaurants cannot and should not be left behind.


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