How to Open a Top-Tier Restaurant in a Pandemic? Rethink Everything

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CHICAGO — The chef de cuisine was looking up mask prices online as the team at Ever discussed how to approach guests entering the new restaurant.

Under normal circumstances this would not be an issue. These customers would be paying at least $285 a head to be transported by peerless hospitality and the creativity of the chef Curtis Duffy, who is making his long-awaited return to Chicago’s high-end dining scene after he and his longtime business partner, Michael Muser, abruptly departed Grace in 2017.

Yet following a state recommendation, the restaurant would require diners to wear masks except when seated at their tables. So the team was contemplating providing each arriving diner with a tote bag containing Ever-branded personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

Days later, Mr. Muser reconsidered, and not just because the apparent $10-per-guest cost felt significant and most people carry their own masks now. If diners are supposed to “get lost in a world of food and wine,” he said, then maybe the restaurant shouldn’t greet them with: “‘Here’s your first-aid survival kit. Don’t die. Enjoy your dinner!”

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