A brunch for a friend’s birthday got me out of closure. I had followed the social distancing guidelines scrupulously, but a Saturday meal for a special occasion seemed like a good first step in venturing out again. We met at Craft Kitchen in Henderson, which before the pandemic was making a quick brunch. There was often a wait for a table.
There is no waiting there these days; reservations are required for dinner on site. (Reservations are recommended for virtually every sit-down restaurant in town.) Due to the new 50 percent capacity guideline, there are never more than five or six tables in use at Craft, plus four tables in the room. ‘outside. So my friend made a reservation a few days before
Here’s what brunch looks like now: Our party of four sat at six tops, with the birthday girl choosing the far corner, thinking she’s been the most exposed to the outside world. We all had masks on and took turns washing our hands. When the waiter arrived he was wearing a mask like the rest of the waiters. We mumbled our commands, keeping the interaction as short and easy as possible. We took off our masks when our food arrived, which we thoroughly enjoyed, happy not to cook yet another meal at home. Before the dishes were cleaned, we put our masks back on and took turns washing our hands. And that day, gifts were given, but not hugs.
“It’s so hard to know what the label is now,” said one of my table mates.
These are the first days of a new culinary paradigm, and we’re all slowly discovering how we fit into it. Some culinary concepts have had to adapt to the new reality, or shut down altogether. Kura, a revolving sushi restaurant with 400 locations around the world that opened with great enthusiasm in Spring Mountain last summer, has closed its communal conveyor belt. Now everything is made to order via a touchscreen: food always comes out on a conveyor belt, but straight to your table
The buffets have already seen the effects of the upheaval. Popular chain Sweet Tomatoes recently closed all of its stores, including three in the Vegas Valley. The Mint Indian Bistro, which like most Indian restaurants in town has a lunch buffet, has changed its presentation to now offer a bottomless sample tray that can be filled at will. And while the Strip wakes up from its pandemic slumber, it’s unclear when its world-famous buffets might reopen.
While the Valley’s Starbucks chains remain in drive-thru and pickup-only mode for the time being, local cafes have started to reopen their dining rooms, with some significant changes. Gone are the communal counters that once contained sachets of sugar and milk carafes. “We eliminated stations where people could touch multiple things,” says Ben Sabouri, owner of Founders Coffee and MTO Café. “We now ask you at the counter what you want and then we will turn around and incorporate them into your drink for you. And while you can still linger with your laptop for as long as you want, once you get up to leave, the staff clears the table, sanitizes your chair, and sprays everything for the next customer.
For Javier Anaya, owner of Pinches Tacos, with three Valley locations, the lockdown hasn’t been as devastating for his business as takeout and delivery have remained strong. “We are one of the lucky ones. Who doesn’t love Mexican food? said Anaya. But not having face-to-face interaction with customers has been the biggest challenge for the restaurateur, who sees his family-run restaurant as an extension of his home.
“Do you remember Cheers? Well, Pinches is the Mexican Cheers, says Anaya. “I don’t hug my clients like I used to. I would literally, on average, hug around 50 people a day.
Since the day the city closed, chefs and restaurateurs have been thinking about what their dining rooms will look like when they reopen. Of course, the uncertainty of the past three months has led to innovations – expanded delivery and take-out options, pivots to new business models, virtual cooking classes – but the focus has remained on the return of the restaurant experience. Now, after implementing state guidelines and reconfiguring the dining rooms, it’s a matter of waiting for the crowds, six feet apart, to enter.
“The first wave of people who came out were so incredibly kind and grateful that we’re open,” said Elizabeth Blau of Honey Salt, which reopened on May 15. “They were ready to get out of the house, not having to cook a meal and get together again with friends or relatives. We tried to make the whole experience – given the masks and gloves and all over. our waiters and hostesses – warm and heartwarming.
Diners are not required to wear masks at Honey Salt, but there is a paper bag at each seat in which diners can store their masks while eating. And while the bar stays closed (most bar restaurants are, because they can’t afford six feet of social distancing), Honey Salt has placed teddy bears on bar seats to lighten the mood.
Cory Harwell, chef and president of Carson Kitchen in downtown Las Vegas, says he’s just happy to provide a space where people can once again enjoy a meal or a drink with friends. Restaurants are, after all, one of the most essential and enjoyable places in society, a place of entertainment and respite. “There are so many people I know who don’t regret the vacation they lost during this time because they will take it at a later date. But what they really missed is that Tuesday night place they like to go to dinner, or that Thursday happy hour where they meet friends, ”says Harwell.
Carson Kitchen has a large rooftop space and courtyard, where the outdoors helps customers feel more at home. With the summer heat coming quickly, this option might be limited; Harwell takes advantage of this and hopes the diners will too. Lucky for us, stellar dining terraces dot the valley, including Locale’s at Mountain’s Edge, where you can enjoy a sunset cocktail.
Some chefs have waited a bit to reopen, like Sparrow + Wolf’s Brian Howard, who completely revamped his menu of dishes and cocktails before doing so. When the doors opened on June 2, it was like unveiling a brand new restaurant. And, despite the capacity reduction, “It was a fantastic first day. We went out and had about 80 covers, ”says the chef. “Coming back with a whole new menu, there was a bit of time to practice. We took the opportunity to really focus on finding the fluidity of our team.
Howard says one of the biggest challenges for his staff has been wearing a mask in a hot kitchen for 12 hours a day. This is just one of a long list of safety protocols implemented by Sparrow + Wolf, as well as the constant wiping of door handles and high contact surfaces. “As a restaurateur and as an operation, it’s our job to make sure our customers feel safe walking through the doors and that we’ve put everything in place to make them feel at home. easy. If we do that, I think it’s a win-win. People understand that we have their best interests in mind and that of our staff as well.
Restaurateurs and chefs appear optimistic about the future of the industry in general and the resilience of Las Vegas in particular, but they also recognize the challenges ahead. Blau says she is encouraged by diners who come to support local restaurants, but adds that the economic toll of the pandemic has been so vast that it will take a concerted effort at the local, state and federal levels for the industry to the restoration has a chance to fight for a real recovery.
For now, here’s what we can do to help you. Meet at the table, together and separately. Start with a brunch, a toast during happy hour, a long meal on a terrace on a summer evening. Thank for the bread (and appetizer, salad, starter and dessert). Tip generously and Yelp kindly.
Because it’s not just food on a plate. Every meal we eat at these restaurants is imbued with creativity, community and hard work. As we continue to rebuild, this is what will support us.
“There are so many things that are different in our culinary world today than there were two months ago,” says Harwell of Carson Kitchen. “I would say, most importantly, just be patient. Just take advantage of your time. Savor the cocktail in front of you. And let us do what we do best which is try to connect you and give you a good time.