Dine Out to Help Out: Downtown Restaurants Need You Now

Written by Regan Hofmann on . Posted in Dining Our Town, Dining West Side Spirit, Eat & Drink, Our Town, West Side Spirit.


At this point, the roar of Hurricane-Franken-Tropical-Storm-Plus Sandy has faded to a dull murmur of reminders to donate to the Red Cross. As members of the modern era, our attention spans have been diverted at least three times over since last week’s storm; by the election, by the jokes your friends have made about the punditry around the election and by that guy on the subway this morning who elbowed you in the back. But it’s still a very real part of hundreds of thousands of people’s lives, and not just the ones whose destruction is staring you in the face.

If you were downtown when the lights went out on Monday, it was an eerie reminder of just how vulnerable we are, how dependent on modern technology, how crummy our systems are. Then the power came back, we all celebrated and cleaned out our fridges, and got back to business as usual. Except it really didn’t. For downtown restaurants, the loss is more than just a week of business. It’s compounded by the major loss of inventory, and they are still expected to come up with Manhattan-sized rents every month. Restaurateurs have estimated that the real impact of the storm will not be felt for another six months, the amount of time it takes for cash reserves to be exhausted and past-due payments to come to bear.

A number of movements have sprung up in the past few days to help out. Dineoutnyc.org began as a simple Twitter hashtag and is now an online clearinghouse for information about those who need help and where and how to make donations or volunteer your time. The NYC Food Truck Association (nycfoodtrucks.org) is taking donations to pay its members to take a break from their regular routes and hand out free meals in the hardest-hit neighborhoods. But there are even smaller things you can do today, right now, that will make a huge difference.

Donate With Your Stomach

Maybe you’ve been meaning to make a donation to the Red Cross but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Rather than sending that text message or going online, check out one of the many restaurants running specials that kill two birds with one stone—boosting their business and donating a portion of the proceeds to relief funds. Try Shake Shack’s special “Rally Shake,” check out the Queens Kickshaw today, when 100 percent of their proceeds are going to the Red Cross, or have a drink at the Beagle, which is donating a dollar for each cocktail poured.

Don’t Spend It All in One Place

You’ve got your morning routine down pat: free morning paper at the subway, coffee and a roll from the coffee cart on the corner. How about you buy your paper from the bodega next to the station? Get your roll from the cart, but try that cute little coffee shop down the block for your morning joe? You were going to spend the money anyway—by spreading it around, you give more businesses a fighting chance.

Eat Down, Tip Up

Another Twitter rallying cry, it’s a reminder that downtown restaurant workers, who lost a week of hourly pay, are historically underpaid anyway. Many positions are heavily tip-based, and those that aren’t, like dishwashers or bussers, are marginalized. Tip everyone, if you can, when you eat out, and tip more than you normally would. Usually a straight 15-percenter? Try 20. Kick a couple of bucks into the barista’s jar. If you’re out for a nice meal, send a $20 into the kitchen in addition to tipping your server.

Support Paid Sick Leave

Let your City Council member know that tips aren’t enough. The city is currently considering legislation that would give restaurant workers the freedom to take off from work when they need it without suffering the loss of a day’s wages, a measure that has the bonus of promoting food safety.

The scale of the recovery ahead can seem daunting, and unless you’re planning on quitting your job to build houses and, it can feel like you’re not doing enough. But the restaurant industry is a huge part of the city’s economy, and it employs those very same people whose houses need rebuilding. You’ve got to eat anyway—why not keep others fed while you’re at it?

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