Fall is coming — and Hamptons restaurants are about to enter uncharted territory.
As coronavirus lockdowns drag on, Manhattanites are in no hurry to return to their pokey apartments. So summer dining spots that would normally close after Labor Day are making unprecedented plans to stay open even as the weather cools.
But even as chefs draft their fall menus and restaurateurs take steps to insulate their dining rooms and arrange outdoor heat for patrons, they admit they aren’t sure what demand will look like.
“A lot of restaurants are staying open at least until New Year’s even though it is unclear what will happen,” said restaurant consultant Don Evans. “New Yorkers will be staying out east. But a lot of them are families. Will they be going out for dinner during the week?”
Despite the influx of wealthy renters, it has been a tough summer for many Hamptons eateries. Restaurants with no space for outdoor seating have been clobbered, and those with space have been slammed by social-distancing regulations that restrict available seating.
Accordingly, outposts of Manhattan hotspots like Carbone and il Buco, which had a pop-up in Montauk’s Mostrador Marram this summer, say they will play it by ear.
“I’m talking with the hotel about winterizing the restaurant now. We don’t need to do much, just add heat lamps,” says Donna Lennard, il Buco’s owner. “The plan is to end in October but as most of us in this country do not understand what is coming next, we are living a bit day-to-day.”
Garry Kanfer, meanwhile, counts himself as an optimist. His Japanese pop-up Kissaki — an outpost of the Bowery eatery in lower Manhattan which launched in Water Mill this summer — has become a celebrity hot spot, attracting the likes of Paris Hilton and disgraced ex-“Today” host Matt Lauer.
Kanfer says he expects the momentum will continue.
“Even with social distancing and 50-percent occupancy, it is still worth it to stay open — this is where our clients are,” he said.
In a show of faith, Kanfer’s in talks to more than double his space from 1,400 square feet to 3,000 square feet — an expansion that will add another 25 to 50 seats inside, even with 50-percent occupancy limits.
During the summer season, he was able to seat 62 people at 17 tables spread out in his garden and in a tent, as well as eight people inside at the sushi bar.
He said he rang up around 100 tables a day and 50 takeout orders. Even if that plunges to 25 tables and 25 deliveries a day, it’s still economically feasible to stay open, he says.
“We’ll reduce staff, and the rent is low,” Kanfer said. “We can adjust to ups and downs and still be profitable and prepare for next season.”
James Mallios, who owns Calissa, a Greek restaurant in Water Mill, says he will be open seven days a week this fall instead of just weekends. Recently, he has been doing 200 tables a night on weekdays and 300 to 400 on weekends.
Mallios also noted that some customers are driving from the city to the Hamptons for dinner, and then driving back home the same evening.
“People who like Greek food are driving from Astoria, Queens, to Water Mill just for dinner,” he said. “That never happened before. People commute for work, not for dinner!”
In July, Michael Pitsinos launched NAIA, a pop-up at Southampton’s Capri Hotel — and now he, too, is staying open all year.
“I wasn’t expecting to be in the Hamptons. I thought I’d be in Miami this winter, but I am 100-percent sure that there will be people here through December and New Year’s,” he said.
The hotel is already booked for September and October, and families are already talking about booking the Hamptons hotel for winter break, according to Pitsinos.
He just added a new fireplace to the indoor restaurant, along with new insulation and other “modifications” to the heating system. The total cost will be more than $50,000, but it will be worth it, he says.
Indeed, heating has become a major focus in recent weeks. Kanfer says he’s waiting for word from town officials about how to proceed.
“If propane stand-alone heaters are allowed in the tent, we will keep it open in the winter,” he said. “We hope the tent can stay open all year. Now, it’s time to see how indoor winter dining will fare.”
East End Restaurant Week — whose usual March run got canceled by COVID-19, will run Oct. 1 to Oct. 8 to raise money for the Independent Restaurant Coalition and All for the East End, which supports local East End food pantries and nonprofits, said Steve Haweeli, president of the organizer, Long Island Restaurant and Hospitality Group.
Participating restaurants will offer a three-course, prix fixe menu for $32.95 every night, although on Saturdays the promotion ends at 7 p.m. Takeout is also an option, and discounts will be offered at hotels.