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For many restaurants, Thanksgiving closures are tough to swallow

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Thanksgiving used to be one of the most lucrative days of the year for Tavern restaurant in Los Angeles, California. But not this year — local eateries have been closed for indoor dining, and starting Wednesday they must also shut down their outdoor dining operations as coronavirus cases in the state soar.

The latest clampdown is the latest blow for restaurants around the U.S., with thousands estimated to have gone out of business since the pandemic erupted this spring. “It’s really devastating. Thanksgiving, if you operate, is a night that makes up for other slower months throughout the year,” said renowned restaurateur and Tavern owner Caroline Styne of being forced to closer her doors on Thursday.

In normal times, the restaurant seats about 600 people and brings in $120,000 in revenue on Thanksgiving Day. This year, Tavern’s catering team will pick up some of that demand by offering meal kits to-go. Orders have rushed in, but can’t make up for the massive disruption in business restaurants have faced this year. 

We need something beyond one fantastic day of sales to make up for all of this,” Styne said. 

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“Super Bowl Sunday” of dining

In New York, the hip and homey Freeman’s, tucked away on a quiet alley in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, usually has its busiest day of the year on Thanksgiving. 

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“Thanksgiving Day for us is like Super Bowl Sunday. Normally, we do an insane amount of business. We open at 11 a.m. and go straight through until 11 p.m. or midnight,” said owner William Tigertt.

Currently, the restaurant is open for indoor dining at 25% capacity. It will welcome guests for Thanksgiving this year, but it won’t be the lucrative event it usually is — unless alcohol sales soar. 

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Freeman’s restaurant in Manhattan, New York, expects to do about 25% of the business it usually does on Thanksgiving day.

Photographer: Steve Freihon/Tung


“I expect to do about 20-25% of the business we normally do unless people decide to start spending a lot of money on alcohol,” Tigertt said. “The fact that we’re going to do any business at all is amazing.”

Andrew Rigie, head of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, representing local restaurants and nightlife venues, said the recent spike in COVID-19 infections could not have come at a worse time for restaurants. 

“Usually, it’s a very busy day because you’re selling prix-fixe meals and have better control of your food costs. And people drink and are generally better tippers, which is great for the workers,” Rigie said. 

Turkey for one

The Dutch, also located in Manhattan, usually seats about 800 guests on Thanksgiving. But Chef Andrew Carmellini will see only about a quarter that number of diners in person on Thursday. He’ll supplement in-person meals with to-go packages, including turkey dinners for one. 

“I assumed because it’s such an odd year there would be smaller groups of people, and that has been very popular for us,” Carmellini said. 

“On the financial side I’m not sure how it’s going to end up yet. On an emotional side, it’s such a big day for us at The Dutch — usually our staff sits down and has a Thanksgiving meal and that part of it is not going to be around. But we are plowing through it,” he said. 


LA County restricts in-person dining for 3 we…

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Even restaurants that typically haven’t offered Thanksgiving meals are preparing Turkey Day feasts in an effort to make money however they can this year. Chicago restaurateur and James Beard award-winner Kevin Boehm has never been open on Thanksgiving. In past years he’s done some meals to go, which he’s doubling down on this year.

“There are very few opportunities to make money right now, so this is one of few we’ll capitalize on,” Boehm said. 

“It’s not a huge change, but we are more aggressively doing takeout this year,” he said. “It’s certainly been more popular this year, I think, because people aren’t cooking for as many heads and are also trying to figure out how to help restaurants. And this is an easy way for them to hand the cooking over to someone else.”

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