The New York City Hospitality Alliance held a series of panel discussions with leaders in the nightlife and restaurant industries to discuss the extreme setbacks the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their business.
The NYC Hospitality Alliance is a not-for-profit organization formed to represent the 24,000 eating and drinking establishments throughout the city’s five boroughs which employ close to 1 million people.
Since the pandemic began in March of 2020, the restaurant and nightlife industry has taken a tremendous hit, with 4,500 businesses closed permanently in the city alone.
“Our city’s nightlife restaurant industry, as I always say, is vital not only to the economic foundation, but really the social landscape of New York City,” said NYC Hospitality Alliance Executive Director, Andrew Rigie during the April 11 event. “We are a community, and our venues are these social spaces. They mean so much more than somewhere you get a bite to eat or a great drink. It’s where we come together and connect.”
The first panel focused on the future of restaurant and nightlife advocacy, with speakers addressing questions regarding the advocacy, legislation and policy behind enacting critical political changes to the hospitality industry during crises.
“Historically this industry has been criminalized and overregulated and restricted,” said NYC Office of Nightlife Senior Executive Director, Ariel Palitz. “The whole purpose of creating the Office of Nightlife was to really reframe the industry as an asset and not as a liability.”
Fellow panelist Robert Bookman added to Palitz’s commentary, talking about the origins of the organization, and its purpose.
“The Hospitality Alliance literally started in my office when a number of people in this room came and said ‘it’s time, we need something bigger than the New York Nightlife Association, and it is time to get the entire industry together in one organization,’ and we have been advocating [for the hospitality industry] ever since.”
The need for organizing a singular unit for restaurants and nightlife in the city was a crucial decision, the panelists all agreed. Tom Colicchio of Crafted Hospitality went into detail about the importance of unity in the industry in order to combat challenges like COVID-19, but also to plan for future crises so that if another dire circumstance occurs, businesses will be ready.
“[There will be] difficult times and difficult years ahead, but we need to all stay together. Because we realize that together we have a voice, and that’s how you move forward. The National Restaurant Association – the other NRA – they don’t have our backs at all. But we are a good alternative to the NRA.”
A following panel centered around how the industry will hopefully revitalize and continue to flourish following the devastation of the pandemic. One idea first addressed by panelist Loycent Gordon, owner of Historic Neir’s Tavern was the importance of bridging the gap created by third-party food service providers like Ubereats or Doordash and gaining control of consumer data.
“I think that going forward, the single biggest thing we can do is get control of our customer data, we saw how vital that was between people using third party delivery apps holding our customer’s data so that when we did need it to send a blast out, to let them know we’re still open, let them know we are doing takeout we didn’t have that opportunity. What we did have was a 30% cut from our burger, from our lobster. Which, if you are generating $10,000 a week, they’re taking $3,000.”
Panelists also discussed how the pandemic made many of them realize the importance of mental health care for themselves and their employees and that the pandemic may have allowed for reflection regarding the need to continuously expand business.
Susan Povich, owner of Red Hook Lobster Pound agreed with Stulman, said that her business had made it mandatory for those in management positions to take at least three weeks off each year or more for mental health.
“We have been doing this for eight years where I insist that all general managers, assistant managers, beverage directors take three to four weeks off at once in various seasons. And I think we need to invest in our employees’ mental health and our own.”
Fellow restaurateur and panelist Gabriel Stulman, owner of Happy Cooking Hospitality had to close down several of his restaurants during the pandemic and agreed with the need for investments in mental health across the industry. Stulman went into detail about how the decision to be satisfied with what he has and not be motivated to expand has improved his quality of life.
“I have come to the understanding and conclusion in the past two years that more is not more. I have come to realize that more of something less is better for my life. I’ve spent many years of my life defining growth professionally. I would rather have fewer restaurants and more time with my wife and my children. I would rather have more dinner parties at my home than more restaurants, I am okay with less money.”
Panelists included Robert Bookman; Petsky & Bookman, Tom Colicchio; Crafted Hospitality, Jeffrey Garcia; Mon Amour Coffee & Wine Bar, Ariel Palitz; NYC Office of Nightlife, Dhruv Chopra; Elsewhere, Loycent Gordon; Historic Neir’s Tavern, Susan Povich; Red Hook Lobster Pound, Gabriel Stulman; Happy Cooking Hospitality, Dennis Ngo; Di an Di, James Parrott; The New School, Steven Picker; NYC Food and Beverage Industry Partnership, Carolyn D. Richmond; Fox Rothschild LLP, Rahul Jain; Deputy Comptroller for NYC and Thomas P. DiNapoli; Office of the State Comptroller.
Sponsors for the event were TouchBistro, Deliverect, E.B Cohen Insurance and Risk Management, Fox Rothschild LLP and Oracle Merchant Lynx Service.