By KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — For many restaurants, the typical Christmas rush might be more like a silent night this year, but chefs are hoping to keep spirits as bright as possible for both diners and staff.
With COVID-19 restrictions relegating guests to decide between outdoor dining in some states or takeout only in others, restaurant workers this year will undoubtedly miss the hustle and bustle of a busy holiday kitchen.
Ricky Colex an executive chef at JaJaJa Group in New York — where restaurants and bars have only accounted for 1.4% of cases recorded between September through the end of November, according to contact tracing data — told ABC News’ Good Morning America that amidst the challenges of 2020, being busy this holiday would mean more than ever.
“Most restaurants will be relatively quiet. Working on Christmas means that I can make someone’s holiday better,” he said. “It’s been an incredibly tough year for everyone, especially restaurants. If my presence will offer some relief and support to my staff and happiness to guests, that’s all that I could ask for.”
Despite drastic changes in operations, chef Riccardo Orfino sees this holiday as a time to celebrate his hardworking staff.
“There’s nothing like spending time with family during the holidays, but my staff is extended family,” the executive chef and partner at Osteria 57 and Alice Restaurant told GMA. “Typically the executive staff works so we can relieve some line cooks to spend time with their families. The busier we are that day, the more we feel the time away is worth it — so order in, visit the restaurant, do whatever you can to support.”
He went on, “We’ve been through a lot this year, and have to do whatever we can to survive. It’s very difficult to understand how to manage expectations for the staff, making sure they feel good or they don’t feel like they’re going to lose their job. That’s the most stressful part for me this year.”
Inconsistencies and uncertainties of being able to stay open posed a challenge as the holiday approached, but Orfino said they “built these beautiful outdoor structures ourselves because we love what we do, and want to continue to feed our neighbors and community.”
The restaurant has new baitas, individual “heated cabins to make our guests feel comfortable and like they’re at another destination — like the Italian alps,” he said. “We’re really proud of it.”
“Outdoor dining is a good opportunity to keep work for the employees — we feel like the holiday is going to be great,” Orfino said.
Both chefs explained there are various ways for people to continue supporting restaurant workers this Christmas, even if they don’t plan to dine outside or even order a full meal.
“Continue to show up. We have to be here every day, so we need people to do the same so we can continue to do what we love,” Colex said. “Also, if you’re planning to cook, most restaurants have meal kits and grocery options because we have to get creative to stand out and make extra income. Check your local spot and see if they have other ways to support.”
Colex said advocating for restaurants online and sharing personal experiences on social media is a helpful way to spread the word.
And if people want to bolster sales, order directly through a restaurant because “when you order through delivery apps, they take a large percentage of sales from the restaurant, leaving us, with very little to pay staff and food costs,” Orfino said.
“Best way to have a unique experience: support local and have a wonderful, safe meal,” he added. “We love what we do and want to continue to feed our neighbors and community. We can’t image doing anything else. It’s our passion.”
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