Calling all busboys, dishwashers, line cooks and more, here’s your chance to dine at a Michelin-starred chef’s restaurants with VIP treatment — “at cost.”
Chef John Fraser, who has won critical raves for past efforts at Dovetail and Nix, is offering restaurant workers a 70% discount on menu prices at his Big Apple restaurants as part of his “Industry Table” program.
Beginning Tuesday, current restaurant workers can take tuck into a $32 eggplant moussaka for just $9.60 or $68 lamb chops for $20.40 as Fraser’s way of saying thank you to those who persevered during the COVID crisis.
The bargain eats will be available at Fraser’s restaurants Iris, La Marchande, The Terrace and Outdoor Gardens at the Times Square Edition Hotel and North Fork Table & Inn on the East End of Long Island.
“I just started to think about the service industry, which became the most underserved community. It was a lot of fun before the pandemic and then it became a job to get through,” Fraser told Side Dish. “Guests were persnickety, and rightly so, as they were afraid to get sick.”
Even when the restaurants were barely populated, “the lights were still on and we have a dishwasher and cooks,” he added, so he thought: “Why not try to reward the industry who is still here in New York and those traveling here. It felt like the right thing to do, and selfishly, to get our community back and excited to see each other again.”
Fraser lost two of his restaurants during the pandemic — The Loyal and the vegetarian cult-fave, Nix, for which he had won the prestigious Michelin star.
“That hurt,” he said.
At the same time, Fraser’s well-reviewed spots at the TImes Square Edition hotel were shuttered while the hotel went through an excruciating bankruptcy and foreclosure auction. Fraser’s top-rated, fine dining spot at the Edition still has yet to reopen.
But he gained some eateries during the pandemic as well, like Iris, which opened in April 2021 and La Marchande, which opened at the new Wall Street Hotel last June.
But openings during and after the pandemic brought their own set of problems. Thousands of Big Apple restaurant workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic fled the city. Many even changed professions.
While some have returned, restaurants are still struggling to find staff and fill tables as the post-pandemic work-from-home phenomena have shifted the cultural landscape.
“When restaurants started to reemerge, there was no talent. It was clear to me that the community had evaporated and that things were maybe not as great as we all thought even prior to the pandemic,” Fraser said.
To rebuild the goodwill, Fraser will reserve a table-for-two every night for restaurant workers at each of his restaurants. Workers can book two Industry Table dinners per year at each restaurant.
The timing will be flexible and change for each restaurant. For example, at La Marchande, the busiest times are after work as many diners are commuters, so perhaps the discount service will be offered late on Fridays.
There will also be blackout dates and drinks will not be discounted.
“The true intention behind this offering is to help reignite the spirit that brought us into hospitality in the first place while also rebuilding a sense of community and camaraderie,” Fraser wrote in an open letter to promote his idea. “Dining out in New York has become prohibitively expensive. We got into this business because we wanted to share. Exploring other chefs’ menus has, and continues to be, a key part of my culinary journey.”
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, applauded the initiative.
“Restaurants are in a much better place than they were the past few disastrous years, but there’s still some real underlying challenges for many small businesses trying to recover from the pandemic,” Rigie said.