CEO Danny Meyer slams coronavirus reopening for NYC restaurant group: Report

Union Square Hospitality Group will not reopen dining rooms under COVID-19 conditions

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Union Square Hospitality Group CEO Danny Meyer is in no rush to reopen the 21 New York City restaurant chains the company owns. And he won’t be doing so until the coronavirus pandemic is under control.

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“We won’t be welcoming guests into our full-service restaurants for a very long time — probably not until there’s a vaccine,” he told Bloomberg. “There is no interest or excitement on my part to having a half-full dining room while everyone is getting their temperature taken and wearing masks, for not much money.”

“I would think about anything that is safe and profitable. If it’s not safe, we won’t do it, we all lose,” Meyer added. “Profitable matters, as well. The only way we can responsibly get back in the business of employing people is to not go out of business. It’s already incredibly hard to survive.”

Danny Meyer, restaurateur and the CEO of the Union Square Hospitality. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

As states begin to reopen and impose limited-capacity guidelines for restaurants, Meyer shared he is hopeful but cannot guarantee all of Union Square’s restaurants will return. To be exact, he said reduced capacity works for fast-casual and fine-casual establishments because “they never depended on you sitting in their restaurant.”

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However, for more upscale places that have other operating costs such as décor maintenance, specialty staff and so on, reopening at limited capacity is not worth the reduced revenue, according to Meyer.

“A lot of restaurateurs I’ve been speaking with — our underlying business model has been sorely challenged. The biggest fixed costs are rent and talent: places [are] paying more than they can afford, talent is not making the living they need to make, while the restaurant isn’t making margins they need to make,” he added. “The system needs to change, or this crisis is only accelerating what we were heading for, anyway.”

All of Union Square Hospitality Group’s restaurants were closed on March 13 – two days after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic. Shortly after, 2,000 employees were laid off by the hospitality group.

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Despite its dining rooms staying closed, Meyer is strategizing the company for the current climate. Its Union Square Café is shortening daily menus to cut costs for the ingredients it has on hand. The group’s other café, Daily Provisions, is prepping to launch a takeout service.

Union Square’s pizza place Marta and barbecue spot Blue Smoke were “on the cusp of takeout” before the pandemic, according to Meyer.

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Union Square Hospitality Group’s Brands

  • Anchovy Social
  • Blue Smoke
  • Cafes At MOMA
  • Caffe Marchio
  • Cedric’s At The Shed
  • Daily Provisions
  • Gramercy Tavern
  • Intersect By Lexus
  • Jazz Standard
  • Loball
  • Maialino
  • Maialino Mare
  • Manhatta
  • Marta
  • The Modern
  • Porchlight
  • Studio Café
  • Tacocina
  • Union Square Café
  • Untitled
  • Vini E Fritti

Additionally, the company is considering meal delivery outside of New York with the gourmet delivery service Goldbelly, which is the same service Shake Shack uses – the fast-growing burger chain Meyer founded in 2004.

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Recently, New York Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced the city is exploring ways it can implement more outdoor seating, which is something else Union Square’s CEO is considering for the company.