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Whether this year’s countdown feels celebratory, contemplative or cathartic (or some mix of all of the above, because 2020 felt both endless and finite), people will be ringing in the new year in various creative and socially distanced methods.
A quiet evening at home can be a chance to carve out your own little fortress of solitude, however, with your nearest and dearest close at hand. Although many of us can’t celebrate at restaurants or bars this year, here are some elements that savvy restaurant designers use to make your evening out a special experience that you can transfer to your own living room for a cozy New Year’s Eve.
1. Cast a spotlight on what matters
Although the soft glow of candlelight is always flattering (and a variety of LED options are available for the accident-prone among us), restaurant designers know to balance out lighting in a way that combines practicality and aesthetics. You may not need to read a menu at home, but squinting at the television is definitely too much effort for a low-key new year’s.
Skip the overhead lights and play with a variety of small table lamps instead (warm white or yellow tinted bulbs are much cozier than blue-based brilliant white options). Worst come to worst, those holiday lights that you haven’t gotten around to taking down can be pressed into service — stick to white or silver for a unified look, and skip the blinking ones unless you want to feel like you’re living in a disco ball.
2. Be careful where you sit
Savvy restaurant designers spend an inordinate amount of time considering seating options — one designer once told me that they personally tested every chair in a 100 seat restaurant for comfort, height and other factors. Don’t just focus on the padding (although that’s certainly a plus), and pay attention to the arm rests, textures and height. Is a love seat, ottoman or even a pile of cushions and throws on the floor the best option for you? Take this opportunity to move around some of your seating to see if there’s a more comfortable arrangement, since many people configure their living space once when they move or get new furniture and consider it to be set in stone.
3. Keep everything in sight
Pull in some small tables for food and drink (more on that in a bit) and see how the heights compare to your eye level when seated: are they within easy reach? Remember to keep sight lines clear to the television and your fellow celebrants (I’ve been to many a wedding where massive centrepieces prevented conversation across a table, for example). On a similar note, take a look at your glassware and remove the overly tall, fragile or eminently tip prone stemware from consideration — nothing spoils a cozy night quicker than breaking out the vacuum to deal with shattered glass.
4. Plate for ease of use
New Year’s Eve is the land of opportunity when it comes to appetizers. A variety of small, distinct bites helps combat palate fatigue and lets us try out new recipes (or previously prepared options, because 2020 has been busy enough) and different pairings. Keep things manageable by limiting the number of plates used to serve or eat — one large platter that is easy to transport between kitchen and dining area, and a couple of small plates per person should be plenty (restaurants have professional dishwashers, after all). Consider your table size before pulling out plates and servingware to avoid overloading and spilling, or perhaps consider having one family member serve up warm foods straight from the oven. Remember to keep the path from the kitchen clear and designate a dish pit for dirty dishes to make cleanup easier later.
5. Sound barrier
Restaurant designers learn early that hard surfaces are the enemy of cozy dining. Bouncing and amplifying sound, hard tile, bare walls or high ceilings can create echo chambers that make a space feel larger but also less intimate. Although sound absorbing elements are typically built into the design (or expensively retrofitted later on once critics start complaining about the cacophonous dining room), you can create sound barriers in your own space by piling on soft surfaces, hanging curtains or decorative textiles on windows or walls, or using room dividers to customize a sitting area.
Note: Because restaurants are hurting this year, consider ordering in some of your celebratory nosh (directly from the restaurant if possible, rather than using a third party app) or donating to a local restaurant workers relief fund if you can.
I’m a Toronto-based freelance writer who has spent the last 18 years traveling the globe as a magazine editor, and a lifetime consuming and exploring the world’s most interesting plates. A former editorial director of several national trade magazines on food, restaurants and fashion, I’ve covered luxury global trends and local flavors — and the chefs, artisans and tastemakers that drive them — across Asia, the Americas and Europe. Whether foraging with herb witches in Germany or hunting for the perfect small batch bourbon, I’m always seeking out new experiences in restaurants, wines and spirits and travel. I’ve also put my Masters degree in Communications to use by teaching magazine journalism and creative writing to the next generation of explorers. I tweet at @leslie_wu
In 2017, Filipino-Brazilian chef Laila Bazahm threw caution to the wind and opened her first restaurant in Barcelona. Since then, Hawker 45 has gone from strength to strength, firmly establishing itself as a local favorite on the Barcelona food scene. Earlier this year, Bazahm decided the time had come to expand the Hawker 45 brand. Not one to do things by halves, she agreed to take over the entire food and beverage offering at AxelBeach Ibiza, a popular LGBTQ+ hotel situated on the beachfront in San Antonio Bay on the Spanish island of Ibiza. Then COVID-19 struck.
This is Laila Bazahm’s story of what it’s like to open a new restaurant—despite being in the midst of a pandemic.
Isabelle Kliger: Please describe your new project at AxelBeach Ibiza.
Laila Bazahm: AxelBeach Ibiza is a “heterofriendly” LGBTQ+ hotel comprising 96 apartments. As of this year, I’m responsible for managing all its food and beverage outlets, including a restaurant, a beach bar, a pool bar, breakfast service and room service, along with 12 members of staff. Compared with overseeing a team of five at my restaurant in Barcelona, it’s quite a large operation. We serve everything from Hawker 45’s signature pan-Asian crowd-pleasers like Singaporean Laksa, Thai-style chicken wings and Malaysian Rendang curry, to beach food like burgers, and a full breakfast menu.
Kliger: What was your original plan and to what extent have you been forced to change it?
Bazahm: We had intended to open on April 1, in good time for summer, but then COVID happened. We finally ended up opening on June 24. Some of the things we’d planned were left hanging this year, due to the uncertainty around how the season would play out, and how reduced traffic would affect our revenue. For example, I had a lot of ideas about marketing, social media, brand collaborations and PR that I wasn’t willing to risk committing to. We also held off on investing in design elements like proper lighting and quality signage. And then there were the parties: Ibiza is all about parties, especially at an LGBTQ+ hotel, where people are looking to make new friends. Big, wild parties just aren’t happening here this season.
Kliger: What safety measures have been implemented as a result of the pandemic?
Bazahm: Firstly, we were all required to take a special course related to COVID-19 protocols. Secondly, we had to cut our occupancy by half and ensure five feet of distance between all sun loungers and tables. Staff wear facemasks and gloves and have their temperature checked daily. In addition, we have to observe a “no dancing” policy, which is quite a challenge, since the majority of our guests come to Ibiza to party.
Kliger: Is everyone following the rules?
Bazahm: Unfortunately, some of the clubs on the island are not fully respecting the social distancing rules and have been organizing crowded parties where not everyone is wearing masks. We refuse to do that. Having experienced the lockdown in Barcelona, and with family in the U.S. and the Philippines, we’re acutely aware of the potential consequences of ignoring social distancing guidelines. We don’t want to contribute to another outbreak.
Kliger: What made you decide to go ahead and open despite the pandemic?
Bazahm: This is our first year collaborating with Axel Hotels. They’ve been tremendously supportive, and that made the decision to go ahead considerably easier. The season may be shorter than usual, but we believed people would come, so we wanted to give it a go. And since we’re in it for the long haul, we figured we’d break even, but learn a lot, and come back stronger next year.
I’ll admit I had a lot of doubts and fears but, sometimes, you just have to jump first and build your plane on the way down.
Kliger: What has been the most challenging aspect of opening a restaurant during a pandemic?
Bazahm: Opening a restaurant—or any other venture for that matter—is already insanely stressful. With COVID, it’s completely nerve-wracking! There are so many factors outside our control, and we live with the ever-present threat of another outbreak and shutdown. I worry a lot about the safety of our team, since we’re all susceptible to catching the virus, no matter how careful we are. That really keeps me up at night.
From a practical perspective, hitting our occupancy targets has been challenging. Dealing with suppliers, many of whom have staff in Spain’s temporary worker furlough scheme, has been a nightmare. But we’re also grateful to the people who’ve offered to help us out.
Kliger: What advice would you give other restaurateurs who might be thinking about whether or not to launch a new project in the current circumstances?
Bazahm: Every situation is different and, in this pandemic, there’s no playbook we can rely on. I mean, who gets into a sport where, the longer you play, the more likely you are to die? If you’re in any kind of entrepreneurial business, you are essentially a gladiator. It requires incredible strength and a very particular psychology. But launching a public-facing, entrepreneurial venture during a global pandemic takes a special kind of madness. It’s definitely not for everyone.
Having grown up in Sweden and studied in the U.K., I moved to Barcelona in 2010 and have never looked back. I write about travel, with a particular focus on all things sustainable and local, and pop culture. My ideal day would involve getting lost in a new city, stumbling upon a tiny restaurant, and getting to sample a dish I’ve never had before. If it happens to be served with red wine or gin (or any kind of local spirit—I’m not fussy), even better. My work can be found in Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, American Way, Departures International, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, and more. Follow me on Instagram @ikliger.
A Saturday night and my phone pings. It’s an email from a well-known courier company. Earlier that day they’d confirmed that my delivery from a high-street restaurant chain would arrive the next day. Now they were telling me it was cancelled: “Contact the sender directly for more information.” At 9.30pm on a Saturday night? Gosh, thanks. Last month, when I wrote about the enduring appeal of French food in Britain, I was emailed by a senior person from the high street bistro chain Côte. They had just launched their Côte at Home range, available nationwide. Would I like to try it?
I turn down over 95% of the freebies offered to me. Partly this is because I am drenched in enough privilege as it is. Wet through, I am. Also, where would I put it all? Mostly, though, I decline such because I’d prefer to experience products as other customers would. I’ve never eaten in a branch of Côte, but many people have told me they rather like them: a fair price point, reliable food and good service. (Complaints in 2015 about the unfair use of tips to top up wages led to a change in policy.) Accordingly, I declined the offer of Côte at Home for free and instead booked it myself. Now, here I was very much experiencing the gorgeous life of a valued customer: it was a Saturday night, I’d spent £85, and my planned dinner for Sunday night had disappeared, along with the contents of this column.
Sod that. What’s the point of being thickly glazed in privilege if you don’t use it? I emailed the Côte exec. Much hand wringing. Apparently six packages had been lost by the couriers. It would be reorganised. Of course it would. Five other people probably have me to thank for their delivery turning up that Sunday, because I do wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t made a stink.
I mention this partly because it would have been far less than full disclosure not to, but mostly because I want them to sort it out. The thing is that Côte at Home is really good. Not just “good considering they’re a high street chain”, or “not bad at the price”. It’s proper good, in the way you tell your neighbours about over the garden wall while dissing the government’s latest knuckle-dragging stupidity. The online selection is so extensive – not just ready meals but cheeses, wines and butchery – that I wondered whether a food service company was involved. Apparently not. Côte introduced a central kitchen for some of their dishes a while back and, with the additions of a few buy-ins, it all comes from there.
Be prepared for packaging that recalls hardcore M&S: recyclable film-sealed plastic trays with cardboard sleeves bearing the legend “Handmade in the UK.” The labelling is supermarket ready, from allergens, through nutritional advice to ingredients and barcodes, with a chilled shelf life of a week. Look closely at those ingredients. It’s what those in the food business call a “clean dec” (short for clean declaration). It’s all words you would recognise, rather than the sort of preservatives and emulsifiers that allow certain foods to outlive that kitten you just acquired. The pokey vinaigrette, with a generous portion of roasted asparagus for £4.95, is made with Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and oil, just as mine is. The gazpacho, more than enough for two, and again for £4.95, is made with such exotic ingredients as tomatoes, cucumbers, red and green peppers, garlic and olive oil. It tastes as if it has just been blitzed in my own kitchen. I check. I hadn’t blitzed it in my own kitchen. There are brioche croutons and basil leaves to add. It’s bright and fresh with a strident peppery kick.
Have you ever stood in a supermarket aisle peering at ready-meal portion sizes, muttering: “Which two people is this for? A couple of four-year-olds who are off their food?” No? Just me then. These dishes pass that test. The most expensive is the beef bourguignon at £13.95 for two including a portion of their mash, the arrival of which shames me. But then it’s part of the deal and I’m working, OK? It’s a proper serving for two of me, made with long-cooked boulders of shin, glugs of cabernet sauvignon, lardons, veal jus and a fat old dollop of time. It is ripe and unctuous and could stick your lips together on a chilly day. It gives Tom Kerridge’s recent beef cheek bourguignon serious competition.
Other highlights: a lamb parmentier that the packaging translates as a shepherd’s pie, made with both mince and pieces of lamb that have disintegrated graciously. There is salmon with ratatouille, and to finish, an impressive lemon and Armagnac posset spun through with zest for £3.50, or a classy apple tarte fine for £4.50. Home preparation has been considered. The oven needs to be at 200C for all of it, and cooking times are in multiples of 10 minutes, making it straightforward to get the dishes out in the right order. A slight niggle: the mash that I hated myself for having and the minted peas, required a microwave, which I don’t own. I did them on the hob. They were fine. I’d be very surprised if this service didn’t continue once the crisis ends, and far less surprised if the products turned up in supermarkets, though they’ll be hard pushed to maintain the current price point once retailers take a cut.
One other delivery: the small Mumbai-inspired group Dishoom have launched a kit enabling you to make their rightly famed bacon naans at home for £16, delivered via Deliveroo from their three London outposts. This did come to me for free, because I was then outside the catchment area, but I made a donation to the charity Magic Breakfast, which provides breakfasts in schools to kids who need them. (Dishoom makes a donation to Magic Breakfast for every kit sold).
It’s a lot of fun, and is now available nationwide. You get the three pots of dough, so you have one to screw up (or fill yourself). Roll the dough out, put it into a fiercely hot dry pan for 30 seconds then under the grill for a minute. Works a treat. There’s cream cheese, tomato chilli jam, coriander and very good streaky bacon from Ramsay of Carluke. The good things to have come out of this crisis are few, but a Dishoom bacon naan at home is one of them. Next week this column should find me eating in an actual restaurant. Or just outside one. Fingers crossed.
A London-based wine company, Nice, was due to launch an Argentinean Malbec in recyclable cans for the 2020 music festival circuit, to go with their sauvignon blanc and rosé that went on sale in 2019. Now, with a lot of sturdy red wine on their hands, they’ve bottled it and are selling it with all profits going to NHS charities. ‘Wine for heroes’ is available via selected retailers, Amazon and their own website, nice-drinks.co.uk.
One issue of the furlough scheme for the restaurant trade has been that income from service charges through ‘tronc’ schemes was not regarded as the salary upon which government payments were calculated. Many employees, already on modest salaries, saw incomes cut in half during the crisis. It’s shone a light on what many see as the problematical nature of restaurant staff depending upon tips, by their nature variable, to get by. Now London restaurants Oklava and Hill and Szrok have joined a few others by announcing the scrapping of all service charges. The headline price of dishes will go up, but there will be no extra to pay and staff salaries will be guaranteed. Let’s hope it catches on.
A survey of 2,000 people by research company Perspectus Global has found that Lady and the Tramp sharing spaghetti is the most loved movie restaurant scene of all time. The top ten also includes Meg Ryan’s faked orgasm at Katz Deli in When Harry Met Sally and Mia and Vincent going for a burger in Pulp Fiction.
There are things you can do, however, to make sure that your favorite place stays open. Here’s a list.
1) Go out and eat. The restaurant industry has been galvanized into taking steps to make their dining rooms, restrooms and kitchens the cleanest that they’ve ever been.
We know that the coronavirus spreads in two ways: from surface contact, and from airborne transmission.
At least when it comes to surface contact, you can be pretty sure that your place is wiping down as much as it can.
Likewise, smaller crowds mean less chance that you’ll catch an infection that way, even though there are no guarantees.
Of course, some states are banning assemblies of larger groups, which might affect whether your favorite is open.
But, if you are comfortable leaving the house, and they are welcoming customers, go have a good meal.
2) Honor reservations. The worst thing you can do right now is book a table and then change your mind and not show up. It’s always a bad idea but in this environment, it will really play havoc with their staff and inventory planning.
Likewise, it’s truly bad form to make multiple reservations, and then choose from one at the last minute. You’ll simply make a number of places unhappy.
“Don’t ‘ghost,’” Bayless said in his email to customers. “We kindly ask that if you choose not to join us for your reservation, please inform us in advance. It’s OK!”
3) Opt for carryout or delivery. On its Instagram account Friday, Saba in New Orleans launched a curbside delivery service.
Many other restaurants have offered them, or have pick up areas where you can dash in, get your food and leave.
It’s a better deal for restaurants if you collect carry out yourself, rather than use a delivery app. That helps the restaurant — and you — avoid delivery charges.
But if you don’t feel like driving over, delivery is your back up choice. Be sure to tip your delivery person.
4) Buy gift cards and merchandise. Restaurants collect gift card revenue as soon as the card is purchased, then mark it as redeemed once the user applies it to a bill.
If you are in a position to buy a gift card and sit on it for a while, you will be helping your local favorite get through a tough time.
Likewise, merchandise can be big profits for restaurants. They make money on t-shirts, cookbooks, mugs, water bottles, and the like. They’re walking advertisements, too, and they show that you’re lending your favorite place a hand.
5) Tip your server. I’ve seen people asking on social media whether they can send tips directly to their favorite servers, to offset the money they’re losing by the drop in patronage.
That’s a lovely idea, but the situation can be a little complicated. First, you have to know your server well enough to have their email or cellphone number.
Second, servers are supposed to declare tips as income, and pay the appropriate taxes.
If you send the money through an app like Venmo or PayPal, there will be a record of the transaction, and the server might get in trouble if they don’t later report it, and the IRS catches them.
That’s why some servers prefer to be tipped in cash.
Also, you need to look up your state’s tipped wage law, if it has one. A number of states require restaurants to cover the shortfall between tips and the minimum hourly wage, usually for employees that are working 30 hours or more per week.
If their hours get cut, they could lose out, even if you try to make up the difference.
Before you do this, make sure it’s on the up-and-up. And also, be considerate of your server’s pride if you make them an gratuity offer.
I’m an alumni of the New York Times and NPR. I learned to cook from my mom, and studied with Patricia Wells and at Le Cordon Bleu. E: firstname.lastname@example.org T: @mickimaynard I: @michelinemaynard Sorry, I don’t honor embargoes.
Shocking opportunities of the Coronavirus and Global Recession for restaurant owners and entrepreneurs… *DISCLAIMER* I’m not a medical professional or economist so for most accurate advice please refer to the CDC and WHO This video is filmed March 2 2020. Around the world, the Coronavirus has made Chinese restaurants ghost towns and affected millions of small businesses. With all this fear and panic happening, it has been reported that some Chinese restaurants are seeing as high as 70% sales drop. Some are forced to lay off workers and close down. Although Chinese restaurants are feeling the brunt of this, know that a virus knows NO BORDERS and sees NO SKIN COLOUR. The business ramifications will leak onto other restaurants as people continue to be fearful of going out to eat and gather. But as one person sees all the NEGATIVES of this, there is another who sees THE POSITIVES OF THIS. As a business owner, I see the opportunities in all the fear and panic from this pandemic and global recession. Cause as Warren Buffet says, when everyone is fearful, you should be greedy. It is the prime time to use the fear as your advantage as things are cheaper and in favour of the growing trend to food delivery. Life is all about how to react to problems. It is up to you how you react to this global phenomenon. Just know that riches are made in recessions. So if you are a restaurant owner, restaurateur, food entrepreneur, small business owner, want to open a restaurant, want to start a business, then now is the time. *Note: no way am I belittling the drastic and devastating effect both the coronavirus and recession has done and can do to people’s livelihood and the lives taken. RESOURCES: Secret Restaurant Success Club Facebook Group: http://bit.ly/Restaurantsuccessclub 7 Day FREE Email Training on How To Start a Restaurant: http://bit.ly/restaurantemailtraining How To Start A Restaurant With 0 experience: http://bit.ly/ULTRESTAURANT ABOUT WILSON LEE: I am an award-winning Top 30 Under 30 business strategist, digital marketer, and Brick and Mortar development expert helping business owners and entrepreneurs create explosive Food and Beverage businesses. My experience cultivating and operating multi-million dollar businesses such as founding and growing an international Dessert Chain (https://720sweets.com/) with locations from North America to Asia, I have discovered the key to achieving unattainable success. It is now my mission to share this knowledge with others who have solid business concepts but can’t seem to break through. If you’d like to learn more about how I can help you achieve the same results, then make sure to connect with me: https://wilsonklee.com/ FOLLOW ME ON: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wilsonklee/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WilsonKingLee/#wilsonklee#restaurantowner#restaurantmanagement