Before the pandemic of 2020 struck, restaurant dining was all about the “experience.” From Dinner in the Sky to Maldives’ Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, restaurants around the globe were coming up with creative solutions to the public’s growing trend to spend their money on an experience rather than an object.
True to their scrappy, die-hard, entrepreneurial natures, restauranteurs and operators are finding a way to create an experience despite in-house dining closures and social distancing measures. They are taking the experience to the streets.
The New Delivery Experience
Oasis, a San Francisco nightclub featuring drag shows, launched Meals on Heels in June. This innovative food-and-entertainment delivery platform was the mastermind of owner D’Arcy Drollinger who did not want to have to lay off workers despite being closed due to the virus.
His solution? He partnered with a local catering business, Martha Avenue, and put together Meals on Heels. Drivers and drag performers deliver double cocktails, entrees, and desserts, and put on a curbside show before making the delivery. Their three packages range from $90 for 1 person to $210 for a party of 3 and are currently available on Fridays and Sundays.
Their other unique offering is a Mean Girls Viewing Party—a movie night on their rooftop served with dinner from the local Basil Canteen restaurant. In addition to rooftop shows and service, Drollinger also started a weekly news roundup YouTube show.
The creative owner told CNN, “There are so many lemons right now, might as well make lemonade. And there’s a lot to be made!” Now, that’s the spirit.
Videos and Meal Kits
Moe’s Southwest Grill, known for its Tex-Mex customizable menu, is now delivering meal kits and videos. Their Nacho Meal Kit comes with an infographic and a video showing customers the “right” way to do nachos. All the ingredients needed to follow along are included: chips, proteins, queso, pico de gallo, beans, sour cream, jalapenos, and salsa.
Their Naked Nacho Phenomenon video, a humorous take on nachos with not enough toppings to go around, can be seen on YouTube.
They also offer fajita and taco kits.
The Private Dining Experience
If the pandemic has left any positive effect in its wake, it may be the fact that it has brought families closer together. We have no choice—there’s nowhere to go. On the other hand, with the divorce rate expected to climb 10 to 25 percent by year’s end, maybe we do have somewhere to go.
For those that enjoy time together, restaurants around the world are offering a seat at the table with next-level private dining experiences.
Mesa, a concept created by Chef Gracian de Souza, offers a unique private dining experience at villas, homestays, and boutique properties in India. His five-course meal comes in modern European or Portuguese and Goan cuisines.
In Amsterdam, Mediamatic ETEN offers a plant-based, four-course dinner served to guests in their own personal and intimate mini greenhouse.
In New Orleans, the chef and owner of Gris-Gris, an acclaimed two-level bistro serving elevated Southern cuisine, offers the Samedi Room. This two-story private dining space features a private kitchen, dining area, and lounge with an outdoor balcony and rooftop view.
The Chef’s Table, in Milwaukee, was well-suited for the pandemic even before it hit. A fully private dining restaurant, you’ll find the dining room, bar, lounge, and kitchen all in one room. They also offer a courtyard, and a lower level with a pool table, and have plans to open the rooftop with a greenhouse
Restaurants are turning to pop-up concepts as a means of survival. This restaurant model is, after all, uniquely designed to survive despite social distancing and closed in-door dining.
These new and unique concepts are drawing customers in via word of mouth and social media. And those customers are looking for new experiences. What they are finding are chefs who are cooking closer to their heart—the food they’ve loved since childhood.
Black Lamb, an American brasserie in Boston’s South End, began hosting pop-ups. One of these is Bun Bo Bui—a concept highlighting Vietnamese dishes, while another offers gyoza, Sichuan-style wontons, and steak fried rice.
Sekali pop-ups can be found at Boston restaurants like Fat Hen, Little Dipper, and Momi Nonmi. Chef Derrick Teh’s native Malaysian cuisine, featuring roti john, curry laksa, and kaya toast, is a hit and selling out.
Chef Amy Yi spent two months serving up Korean fried chicken and banchan spreads at her Brooklyn neighborhood “K Pop-Up!.” At Dame, a pop-up in West Village, you’ll find curried, pickled mussels, fried fish and chips, and an English sangria made by Englander, Chef Ed Szymanski. Dame also features changing Sunday Series pop-ups that have featured regional cuisine from Galician and Venezuela.
Since opening Dame in June, owners Szymanski and Patricia Howard have donated all their profits to organizations such as Hot Bread Kitchen, Soul Fire Farm, and the NAACP.
From pop-ups to high-heeled delivery performers, restauranteurs are kindling their creative juices and, in the process, creating new experiences for an experience-starved world. From the ashes, a phoenix is rising.