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On December 3, the chef Calvin Eng opened the Cantonese American restaurant Bonnie’s in Williamsburg. After years spent working at restaurants including Nom Wah Nolita and Win Son, he finally had a place of his own — and it proved to be immediately popular. Then, two hours before service on December 17, Eng decided to shut down his dining room and go takeout only.
“Business was great for those first two weeks, but we decided to pivot as a team,” he explains. “It didn’t seem like a smart or safe thing to put our staff or customers through.”
It’s now been a month since Omicron arrived in New York, slamming the restaurant industry with a wave of positive cases and anxiety over how to react. Broadly speaking, business had been good, servers and owners told me, in the weeks leading up to mid-December. Then it dipped, as cases rose and potential customers stopped socializing in advance of seeing older or at-risk relatives over the holidays. As of January 7, reservations on OpenTable were down 38 percent from two years ago. A representative for Resy shared that covers were down in New York last week by roughly 20 percent from the Q4 average, though she added the first week of January is “always slow.”
Some restaurant owners have moved quickly to adapt: At his Prospect Heights restaurant Olmsted, for example, Greg Baxtrom will switch to a tasting-menu format after, he wrote on Instagram, struggling “to offer a consistent, delicious, and safe experience during these ridiculous times.” At Bonnie’s, Eng switched things up too, introducing a “McBonnie’s” menu with with a char siu McRib and a filet-o-fish. (The regular menu, he says, didn’t work well in the takeout format.)
Around the city, over the last few weeks, I’d heard mixed reports about business. Wu’s Wonton King owner Derek Wu says that business is down 40 percent over the last month. “Definitely a ghost town in the Lower East Side,” Matthew, a bartender who works in the neighborhood, texted. But a server said that her restaurant in the same area was doing okay: “Young people restaurants,” this server said, were doing fine.
But that’s not the case everywhere. One Brooklyn server, who asked to remain anonymous, told Grub Street in December that he had nights with only a few tables at the restaurant where he works, and that if this persisted, he would have to move back home. He went from making $757 before taxes the week of December 12 to $576 the following week. The week of Christmas, when he only worked a couple shifts, he made $110. When January 1 came around, he wasn’t able to pay his full rent.
When I popped into the Fly at the beginning of this week, it was the emptiest I’d ever seen it. The restaurant is usually packed; on Monday night, there were only a handful of people inside. Then again, it was 12 degrees outside, and it was a Monday in early January, typically an incredibly slow time for any New York restaurant.
Read More: How Omicron Has Impacted NYC Restaurants