Survival Tips for Restaurants Post-Sandy: Ryan Sutton

Seamus Mullen's Tertulia in Greenwich Village served a $30 set menu amid the power outage that plagued lower Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy struck. Photographer: Ryan Sutton/Bloomberg

Last week, I ate a number of meals in restaurants with little power, limited menus and cash-only policies. Having been evacuated twice in just over a year, I have to believe this might all happen again. In the spirit of preparedness, here are my post-Sandy observations:

1. Include philanthropy in your business model, particularly after a disaster. A guest may take some comfort in the knowledge that, say, a buck out of every $12 margarita is going toward relief efforts. That’s part of what drew me to Empellon Taqueria on Sunday. (The other draw? Easy: Great tacos).

2. Take a tip from Sandy: Trim your menu -- and your wait staff’s verbosity. The storm cut the size of menus and people seemed happy to cut through the clutter and the noise pollution. Guests will spend more time eating your food, less time reading about it.

Shut Up

3. Remember that velvety silence last week? Keep it that way. I found a normally boisterous restaurant at once crowded and quiet. Maybe it was because the battery-powered stereo delivered Paul Simon sotto voce. Or maybe it was that everyone was well-behaved and grateful just to be eating a hot meal. Either way, it was proof that quiet can be convivial. I hope that rare phenomenon returns.

4. Make like Woodstock and open the gates: Offer free device charging and access to your wireless network during emergencies. At Danny Meyer’s The Modern the day after the storm, I watched a bartender juice up a guest’s iPad. Later that week, I had brunch at a Mexican spot in Morningside Heights that stated its anti-charging policy via a sign. Guess which restaurant was empty?

5. Work the social media. Two days after Sandy, Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud were packed, while a well-regarded spot nearby wasn’t. The Boulud venues touted their openings via social media. The less-crowded venue did not.

Please Tweet

This isn’t just a storm problem. I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time I’ve arrived at a restaurant only to find it closed for a private event. If you can afford to print out your menus every day, you can afford the three seconds it takes to post on Facebook whether you’re open.

6. Dig up that old credit card imprinter. It’ll come in handy when an outage takes out your credit card terminal and the downed cell tower makes Square payments impossible.

During and after the blackout, well-known venues like The Little Owl and Tertulia temporarily went cash-only. If only nearby ATMs had backup generators. Plastic is king.

7. You’re not too good for TV. When half the city is in blackout mode, have a TV on to add to the communal experience. You won’t suddenly turn into an ESPN Zone. Parm and Roberta’s know this and I’ve never seen anyone turn up his or her nose at the TV showing the Giants game.

8. Spread the love. In Dumbo, Governor was inundated with over four feet of flood waters, putting 35 people out of work. The restaurant has since raised at least $31,000 toward rebuilding via, with a goal of $150,000.

Even better: Governor has pledged 10 percent of those donations toward local flood relief.

(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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