Big city chefs are moving to unexpected places

New York (CNN Business)As pandemic restrictions ease, and more people get vaccinated and start returning to offices, some restaurants are seeing lunchtime crowds pick up. But this time, things are a little different.

Among the changes restaurant owners have encountered: Boozy lunches getting boozier. Attire that’s less buttoned up. And at least one pandemic-era addition — the partition between tables — that has actually grown on customers.
At Estiatorio Milos, a high-end Greek restaurant with two locations in New York City, diners are coming back for the midday meal. “We’re full” at the outdoor space of Milos’ midtown location, said Costas Spiliadis, the chain’s executive chef and founder.

    The terrace at Estiatorio Milos in midtown.
    “People stay longer,” he said. “They spend more,” he added, suggesting that those who skipped vacations and other events this year may have more cash on hand for an upscale meal. And he’s noted another difference, too.

      “For lunch, before, wine and alcohol were very limited,” he said. “People were maybe having a glass of wine. But now you see people during business hours … they are ordering a bottle of wine.” The trend is especially pronounced at the Hudson Yards location, which caters to a younger crowd, he said.


      Spiliadis expects business to pick up as more people return to work. With tables spread out indoors to keep up with social distancing guidelines, he’s worried there won’t be enough space. In an effort to accommodate more people, Milos introduced a “Back to the Office” lunch with just two courses — salad, tartare or calamari followed by fish or chicken — for $24. The traditional office lunch has more options, costs $38 and has an additional dessert course, making it a more time-consuming meal.
      Nick Livanos, who along with his family owns the Livanos Restaurant Group, said people are coming back to lunch at some of his midtown locations, like Oceana, a seafood restaurant on 49th Street. But the meetings seem more casual.
      “The attire has not gone back to business attire,” he said. “It might be a nice shirt and slacks,” he specified. “But we’re not seeing jackets. We’re not seeing what the midtown clientele used to wear.”
      Livanos said that he looks forward to abandoning some pandemic-era protocols, like checking customers’ temperatures. But others may stay: Livanos has put up partitions between tables at his location in a New York City suburb. Customers love them, he said.
      “As things get back to normal, that means jovial and happy conversation, loud conversation,” he said, which could make customers at nearby tables uncomfortable. “People are still concerned with receiving the germs from the table next to them,” he said. The partition could “give them peace of mind.”
      One eatery in an area where restrictions have completely lifted has noticed a positive change: demand is exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

      Diners seated in the courtyard of Michael's Genuine Food and Drink in Miami.
      At Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink in Miami, “we are all the way back to where we were before the pandemic, if not even higher,” said Sunil Bhatt, CEO of the Genuine Hospitality Group, which operates the bistro.
      At lunch, people are spending a little more, he added. “Our average ticket has gone up a little bit,” he said. “People are spending maybe 5% more than they were before.”

        The restaurant is maintaining some social distancing measures so is not at full capacity, Bhatt said, even though Florida does not have any pandemic restrictions on restaurants at this time. That means that more people are flowing through the premises during the lunch rush.
        Before the pandemic, the restaurant might have some empty tables between 11 AM and 3 PM, he said. “Now we’re pretty much full all the time.”
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