After a long season when many high-earning executives subsisted on takeout salads and grain bowls, Manhattan’s power districts are finally getting their lunch mojo back.
Many eateries favored by movers and shakers opened for dinner only when indoor dining resumed last February. But lunch is on tap again at Le Bernardin, Le Pavillon, Marea, and the fabled venue where the “power lunch” was invented — The Grill, former home to The Four Seasons.
Owners had served dinner but held off on midday due to scarce mid-day customers and even scarcer staff. A recent uptick in office occupancy to nearly 30 percent from under 20 percent earlier this year, combined with Broadway’s reopening and a sense of security provided by vaccines, finally made lunch viable again.
After serving dinner only from mid-March, Le Bernardin added lunch three days a week in mid-September and from Monday-Friday starting on Oct. 4. Chef/owner Eric Ripert cited “more people in offices and a lot of foot traffic in the Times Square and Midtown area” for making the moves worthwhile.
The Grill’s lunch revival last week might prove a game-changer in Manhattan’s socio-culinary recovery. Jeff Zalaznick, managing partner of Grill owner Major Food Group, said, “This is our duty and our responsibility as restaurateurs and as New Yorkers. Lunch at The Grill is an institution and it is time for people to get off the streets and get back to work.”
In recent weeks, lunch also resumed at Charlie Palmer Steak and at classy Clement in the St. Regis Hotel (in a twist, the latter is not yet open for dinner). BLT Steak on East 57th Street has its eye on a Nov. 1 lunch re-boot and many more places are expected to get on board.
But it’s hard to nail down the facts at some places. Marea has offered lunch from Wednesday through Sunday for several weeks, but its phone line and Web site still cite dinner hours only. Charlie Palmer Steak has served lunch Tuesday through Friday since Oct. 3, but the news has yet to reach their phone line and web site.
Several major venues continue to wait. There’s no lunch yet at Nobu on Fulton Street downtown, an area where bankers, brokers and media execs have few first-class dining options. Co-owner Drew Nieporent said it was due to the staffing shortage but the plan is to reopen “within a few weeks.”
Aquavit general manager Yuka Abe said that Monday dinner alone, which was recently added to the schedule, “has the far greater potential in terms of total sales than five lunch shifts. But lunch is our next goal once we get Mondays going” at the elegant Nordic restaurant on East 55th Street.
Certain lunch decisions are linked to specific neighborhood circumstances. Andrew Carmellini’s French brasserie Lafayette in NoHo added lunch this week, spurred in part by the return of NYU faculty who often went there.
On the other hand, Chinese luxury palace Hutong, in the former Le Cirque space in the Bloomberg tower, is waiting until the office tower reaches 70 percent occupancy, according to maitre’d and guest relations head Raafet Olian.
But there’s clearly no slowing the lunch-again momentum — to the delight of Midtown executives and business owners.
Powerhouse CBRE retail broker Spencer Levy says that after gaining 15 pounds working from his home kitchen, he’s “happy to be back in the city where lunch only happens at lunchtime.” His favorite places include celebrated Alsatian restaurant Gabriel Kreuther on East 42nd Street.
Lisa Mogensen, a West 40s chief financial officer, said the reopenings beat “the fast casual alternatives that become a mainstay of one’s lunch repertoire. It’s lovely to have them for special occasions rather than to celebrate rather with a group pizza or Chipotle run.”
Alexander Marketing president Linda Alexander, a Midtown business owner for more than 20 years, enthused, “The energy is absolutely back, especially as evidenced by the re-openings of so many restaurants and the return of the quintessential business lunch. I have to again make reservations in advance, but that’s a small to price to pay.”