By Elyse Glickman
It goes without saying that the 2021 holiday season may not be as quiet as 2020, but venues around the country will experience “workshops” that may be short a few elves here and there. Ultimately, how a given bar/restaurant will cope will vary based on who the customer is as well as the habits and expectations of customers living in particular geographies.
“Folks are trying more of a traditional way of socializing,” says Bert E. Miller, CEO of Protis Global – MRI Network, a search and recruitment firm specializing in the hospitality and food and beverage industries. “And this includes a return to classic cocktails. I am seeing more Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and pre-prohibition things rather than whatever happens to be in fashion. Bar owners, meanwhile, are moving back towards engaging more with their customers. Customers now want to go back to their favorite bars where they can feel somewhat of a connection with the staff and servers. Therefore, it’s really important that bar managers build that into the structure of the organization rather than wait for that to fall back into place.”
New Jersey-based David Burke, who achieved notoriety through his best-selling cookbooks and appearances on such shows as Top Chef and Iron Chef America, has observed that in New Jersey, the catering and party business looks promising for his venues, especially as New York City has more strict rules requiring customers to show vaccination cards. He adds that it will be hard for most restaurants in New York and some other parts of the country to accommodate larger groups. He anticipates New Jersey will be getting a lot of that business from New York City customers as will private locations (such as clients’ offices) near his restaurants.
“Christmas 2021 will not be as spectacular as other years with the lights, bells, and whistles and influx of tourists and conventions, and the fourth quarter will be weaker in terms of profits,” Burke predicts. “New York City has a long way to go [in terms of economic recovery], and the expense accounts that pay for these parties will not be what they once were. We also expect less action when it comes to happy hour. Furthermore, people are leaving the tri-state area for other areas during the holidays as well and may come back as late as February. With the labor shortage meaning less stable positions, workers are going to be jumping from ship to ship.”
Darnell Joseph, owner of Brooklyn restaurant IV Purpose, argues one way to face this holiday season with spirit and good will is to engage with current and prospective customers through community engagement events, job networking events, and financial literacy events. “This past Halloween, we gave out candy to all the kids that walked by,” he says. “We try to engage as much as possible with the adults as well as well as their kids. If a server can’t find a babysitter on a given night, we want her to feel that she can bring her kids in, and we will set them up in a corner somewhere in the restaurant with like an iPad or a TV.”
Peter Demos, CEO of Demos’ Brands and Demos Family Kitchen, meanwhile, will step up training efforts for staff, as customers can become frustrated with a server still trying to learn on the job and not being able to cope if it gets busier than what they have experienced in the past.
“We’re making certain that with our new hires and existing staff, we aren’t going to give up on them,” explains Demos. “If there’s an ill-trained person working and a customer gets frustrated, the worker will get frustrated and quit, and they’re going to quit during the most critical time of the year. In the days leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve, we make the staff aware of what we plan to do and how we’re going to do it, as well as days and times we may close out of necessity. It’s sort of similar to getting into your car at a certain time of day and knowing ahead of time you will have a lot of traffic. When we can emotionally prepare our employees as opposed to springing it on them at the last minute, then we find our workers are in much better shape to handle increased stress or workloads.”
Connor McRaith, bar director at Lanea in Santa Monica, CA, says that his projections for this holiday season at Lanea are “cautiously optimistic.” While the team is looking at possibly hiring one or two extra staff members for the holidays, he wants to be careful not to burn the current staff by overstaffing and cutting into their shifts.
He also notes that adapting the bar itself to faster service with a smile is a priority. “Our golden goose to help us tackle this season with a reduced staff is through our partnership with QuickServe Cocktails,” McRaith explains. “They’ve worked with us to convert our soda gun system as well as our draft lines so we have fresh, incredibly consistent, ready-to-drink cocktails just seconds away. This allows us to service more guests in a much more time efficient manner, leading to less wait time for guests and less strain on our staff.”