Michelin-Starred Daniel Boulud Says Fine Dining Will Not Be Going Away

The outdoor terrace at New York City’s Eleven Madison Park is open. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Daniel Boulud’s three Michelin star restaurant has alternately been used for meal prep boxes, takeout and delivery services, and as a philanthropic commissary kitchen. It is now open for a maximum of 40 seated diners, outside only.

According to Boulud, NYC’s outdoor dining restrictions have restricted his table service capacity by at least 75%. “I think the terrace is only… we have a limitation of about 35-40 seats. But that’s pretty good. And if it’s nice weather, we might be able to double that size. But that’s nothing compared to the size on the inside, where normally we have private dining rooms, we have the bar and lounge, we have the dining room, which could almost bring 180 seats or more. So, it’s a very different business model.”

When asked if he expected to be profitable, he responded frankly, “It’s definitely not a profitable model, but it motivates us so much to do something.”

Indeed, NYC has become one of the most difficult areas for full service restaurants. On Thursday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that city bars and restaurants will be subject to “additional restrictions and tougher penalties” for COVID-19 safety violations. Three violations will result in permanent closure of an establishment, and “egregious” violations will result in immediate forfeiture of the owner’s liquor license. Cuomo has outlawed standing bars everywhere, with alcohol only permitted for seated diners.

Boulud responded to Bloomberg radio hosts’ questions about the economic reality of restaurant ownership, given NYC’s current prohibition on indoor dining. “Thank God we are in the summer right now, and the fall should be mellow, until at least November. But the Mayor of New York has really opened up, and I think many cities all over the country have opened up the opportunity for restaurateurs to be able to put tables outside in places where they would have never been authorized before. And they are very mindful of course for security for the guests, and really to give the chance for the restaurateur to have a meaningful business outdoors, for the time being.”

When asked about the future of fine dining, “For the time being, it will need to be slightly recalibrated in its ambition of offerings and its size.” When asked about the pricing power of fine dining establishments, Boulud said, “Maybe more options to be able to have choice, of not having to go for tasting menu only, but maybe some sampler options. Maybe some hours of operation should be shrunk down a little bit.”

“Fine dining will not be going away,” concluded Boulud. He remains hopeful that more outdoor seating, including generous policies to repurpose outdoor space, will assist full service restaurateurs who want to fight for survival. “Of course, the fine dining restaurant is more complicated, but not many restaurants have outdoor terraces. The small bistro, we have four or five tables outside. I’ve seen them taking half a block, and going around the block with tables, so it seems like they have more tables outside than inside.”

Today, there were an additional 498 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S., bringing total deaths to 140,157. Some good news arrived from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, disclosing that the overall death rate appears to be normalizing, at least temporarily. Due to increasingly cautious behavior such as mask-wearing and cleanliness norms across the country, the death rate from non-coronavirus diseases and accidents has declined. Below is a chart of all cause mortality in the U.S. since 2017 with data through July 4, 2020.

Photo by DinexGroup at Creative Commons

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