A year and change into the pandemic, restaurants have established new guidelines, staff have been re-trained with additional responsibilities and customer engagement has been approached in different ways. But as restaurants and bars gear up for summertime business and full-capacity reopenings, new challenges are surfacing — from staffing shortages to supply chain strains. As the industry remains cautiously optimistic, follow along for a behind-the-scenes look as three restaurants gear up for the summertime ramp-up: an OG institution, a popular pre-pandemic cafe that recently expanded and a newcomer that opened up during the past year.
BY THE HOUR
As most of D.C. sleeps in, for early riser Daniella Senior, the day begins at dawn with an inbox cleanout. Not only does Senior own daytime café and eatery Colada Shop (with locations on 14th Street, at The Wharf and in Potomac, Maryland), she is also behind dual concepts Serenata and Zumo at La Cosecha. Between those businesses, inquiries and emails are flooding in 24/7. Senior puts out any fires and makes sure that pressing matters are taken care of. “You just never know what the day is going to bring, and you try to anticipate as much as possible,” she says.
Brian Zipin, general manager and wine and beverage director of D.C. institution 1789 Restaurant & Bar, begins his day answering emails and then transitions to other business matters when he arrives onsite at the Georgetown restaurant.
Joancarlo Parkhurst, chef and owner of La Famosa, arrives at his Puerto Rican fast-fine eatery in Capitol Riverfront. Fully caffeinated, he does a walkthrough of the restaurant and checks in with staff who are onsite — some since 5 a.m. He makes sure pastry production is where it needs to be and then shifts his attention to back-of-house matters. From there, he tackles his inbox, reviews social media, and addresses any requests or comments from guests. After that, he does a walkthrough of the kitchen line, front-of-house bar and café area for inventory.
Senior spends the next few hours of her morning combing through any new reopening guidelines, which she notes are “coming out, at this point, almost daily.” Other items on the morning agenda? Calls with business partners to discuss everything from PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and Restaurant Revitalization Fund opportunities to expansion plans and financials. She’ll typically visit one of her three Colada Shop locations in the morning and rotate through the other two spots as the day goes on.
Zipin arrives at 1789 and begins reviewing sales and other inventory items. He then checks in with the chefs to touch base on the day ahead. From there, he reviews the reservations for the day, works out staffing schedules, and gets a handle on deliveries and any orders the restaurant is expecting (and troubleshoots when items aren’t delivered as scheduled).
Over in Capitol Riverfront, after reviewing inventory and reaching out to vendors, Parkhurst turns his attention to prep work on the line if it’s a back-of-house day for him. If he’s needed in front of house, catch him manning the café whipping up cappuccinos, espressos and showing off his latte art skills.
Lunch service begins at La Famosa. Up until this point, the staff onsite has been fairly lean with one barista, one manager, one baker and one chef typically at the restaurant. Depending on the day, Parkhurst is cooking on the line, continuing with inventory or assisting with prep work.
At any point in the day, you might find Senior (a Culinary Institute of America graduate) working any of the front- or back-of-house positions at one of her restaurants. “Honestly, in the last month, I’ve been on the line, a cashier, a food runner, a busser and a dishwasher — and sometimes on a full shift.”
Although La Famosa switches over to its all-day menu at 11 a.m., Parkhurst still tries to keep the cafe’s bakery offerings stocked with quesitos, mallorcas and other pastries throughout the day. “Prep work is continuous. All of those things in the pastry cabinet are being produced throughout the day, as well as our regular menu.” He’s hoping to continue pastry production into the evenings as long as he can, pending any staffing challenges.
Senior’s day continues to be in flux as she switches between managing the books, attending business meetings and providing onsite restaurant support. “You’re going from these very high-level meetings with landlords, banks and investors to then switching gears completely and being a food runner,” she says. “I have to wear a lot of hats. I’m grateful that I am able to understand all the positions within the establishment, so if I have to jump behind the bar, I can bartend. I can make coffee.”
Meanwhile, at 1789, Zipin assesses any maintenance that requires his attention before guests arrive. “There’s always repairs,” he says. “There’s always upkeep and maintenance.” Managing one of D.C.’s oldest restaurants, he notes the dining rooms were given a mini-facelift with the changing times of the pandemic. The fine-dining fixture closed for part of 2020 and reopened in November, which provided an opportunity for a refresh — in addition to bringing on new executive chef Kyoo Eom. “We decided if we’re going to reopen a fine-dining restaurant, let’s reexamine things. What’s fine dining today?” Gone are the flower vases and candles that used to adorn the tables, windows are opened, and there’s a bright, new energy in the restaurant. But the importance of maintaining certain standards remains.
As service transitions to dinner, Parkhurst and his team make sure their guests are comfortable with the restaurant’s QR code ordering system. The initial education process takes a little bit of time, he notes. “Once guests understand it and they’re a repeat diner, it’s a breeze.” One silver lining? The restaurant opened in September 2020 during the pandemic, and the team
has been operating with the QR code system and a fully contactless ordering experience from the get-go.
Over in Georgetown, staff arrive for 1789’s dinner service and Zipin prepares for the team’s preservice meeting. As he notes, “You have your life before service and then you have your life leading into service.”
In addition to juggling business meetings and finances, Senior also keeps a pulse on maintenance issues that may arise at any of the Colada Shop locations — from installing water sensors to dealing with plumbing issues, and everything in-between. She jokes, “Things love to break on Fridays at 5 p.m.”
Meanwhile, 1789’s preservice meeting begins and Zipin talks through the schedule, looks ahead at the week of reservations and goes over any guest reviews left on online platforms.
Dinner begins at 1789. Training of any new staff occurs during service, in real-time. Throughout it all, Zipin is available as support for his floor managers. Now with staff shouldering more responsibilities, he’s on hand to step in and help oversee the dining rooms when needed. “The role of managers has changed because labor is so hard to find,” he says. “Managers are now taking drink orders, running food, picking up the table. You want to support your staff. You also want to make sure that guests are taken care of.”
At Capitol Riverfront, La Famosa’s bar continues to crank out the tropical cocktails you’d expect to find at a Puerto Rican eatery. From piña coladas to other bright and vibrant rum concoctions, the drinks are labor-intensive to make with multiple components including freshly squeezed juices and fresh-cut pineapple. Although guests have been understanding of the wait times it takes to create these cocktails from scratch, Parkhurst speculates if that will still be the case as reopenings continue. “I think people are pretty open to the idea that a drink will take 5-10 minutes, but I wonder when things open up if people will continue to have that kind of realistic expectation.”
Senior wraps up for the day, typically remaining at one of her restaurants late into the evening.
Across town, service winds down at 1789 and Zipin turns his attention to closing the restaurant.
Parkhurst and his team begin kitchen walkthroughs to close out the night.
Zipin leaves 1789 for the night. Parkhurst ends his day at La Famosa.
Beyond the Day-to-Day
As D.C. prepares to move toward full-capacity reopenings, restaurants continue to grapple with what exactly that means for them. Senior hopes as things move forward, the industry conversation will shift back to equality efforts.
“Pre-pandemic, there was a lot of momentum around equality and equity,” she says. “I want to make sure it’s something we still keep moving forward. As we return to normalcy, [continuing] those conversations of gender and race equality and making sure we’re building a sustainable industry.”
For Parkhurst, it’s the recognition that traditional roles will continue to evolve into something more than what they were pre-pandemic.
“The main role of management nowadays is supporting,” he says. “It’s clearing your table, building you a drink, bringing you a drink, helping you order. The level of interaction for managers with guests will continue to be different.”
Zipin echoes that sentiment.
“Think about the challenge for restaurant managers [who] now have to not only manage the day-to-day operations of the restaurant but navigate the changes that have happened since March , the data coming in, and balancing workers and staff.”
For him, the issue of staffing is always at the forefront these days. But as things shift toward normalcy, he hopes guests will continue to appreciate the experiences restaurants and their staff provide.
“Hospitality means a lot to a lot of people,” Zipin says. “I hope when things come back to normal,8 people remember how enjoyable and important it is.”
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