One of the highest rated restaurants in the world, Eleven Madison Park in New York City, is removing all animal products from its menu. Eleven Madison's chef says the current food system is not sustainable, and his focus will be on a world-class menu that is entirely vegan. Is this a one-off, or a harbinger of more change? Even fast food restaurants now offer meatless burgers.

New York Times columnist Ezra Klein argues that vegan and vegetarian options are still harder to find and often not very good. We examine the landscape with our guests:

Restaurants are struggling to convince employees to come back to work. Federal unemployment assistance runs through August, and many workers feel that if restaurants won't pay more, it's not worth giving up the benefits. Restaurant owners call it a crisis, but workers are organizing and calling it an opportunity to re-balance what all restaurant employees are paid.

Our guests discuss it:

  • Richard Bensinger, union organizer 
  • Andrea DePasquale, worker at Nani’s Kitchen 
  • Candace Doell, executive chef at Owl House Catering and Events

Karen DeWitt/WXXI News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York City restaurants can operate at 75% of capacity beginning May 7, bringing rules there in line with the rest of the state.

While COVID-19 restrictions are easing for restaurants and bars across the state, the industry, hit hard by the pandemic, said more needs to be done.

File photo

NEW YORK (AP)  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer appeared at a Manhattan seafood eatery on Sunday to urge restaurateurs to apply for the soon-to-launch $28.6 billion federal restaurant relief program.

“Our purpose here is to tell the restaurants of New York, ‘Get ready, help is on the way,’” the New York Democrat said at Crave Fishbar in Midtown Manhattan.

Restaurants can't find enough people to fill shifts: servers, front of house, back of house. Owners say that former employees are reluctant to give up unemployment benefits that run through August. Meanwhile, restaurants and bars can stay open until midnight, and more vaccinated clientele are ready to go out to eat and drink. So what happens next?

Our guests:

A new initiative aims to help local restaurant owners during the pandemic. CurAte delivers mystery dinners to customers throughout the Rochester area; the meals are made by local restaurants -- many of them minority-owned businesses. CurAte's founders say they want to help restaurants survive the pandemic, and by taking the customer work and deliveries off of their plates, restaurants can focus on making meals.

This hour, we talk about CurAte, the restaurants they've worked with, and the state of the industry during the pandemic. Our guests:

James Brown / WXXI News

State restrictions on restaurants are slowly being eased. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that restaurants, outside of New York City, can allow 75% of their capacity starting March 19. 

“The numbers are down,” said Cuomo, referring to the COVID-19 positivity rate. “When the numbers are down we adjust the economic reopening valve. It's not just good news for the restaurant owners. Remember, you have a lot of staff at restaurants, there are a lot of jobs, there are a lot of suppliers, so we'll go to 75%.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that restaurants outside of New York City, which have been operating at 50% capacity, can now move to 75% capacity starting March 19.

He says the data has shown that restaurants can operate safely and in accordance with strict health protocols at 75% capacity. New York City restaurant capacity will remain at 35% capacity.

Gino Fanelli / CITY

Monroe County restaurants would not have to pay the county’s food service establishment fee in 2021 if a budget amendment proposed by the Monroe County Legislature’s Republican Majority passes.

At a news conference Thursday, Legislature President Joe Carbone and Majority Leader Steve Brew said waiving the fees would provide critical aid to restaurants that were dealt a financial blow by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The food service industry has been the most impacted by COVID-19, and unfair government service fees are exasperating this problem,” Carbone said.

New York state is operating under a new set of metrics to determine pandemic-related shutdowns. But some, including restaurant owners, are finding Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new criteria difficult to decipher, and worry it will mean more eateries will soon be out of business.

The state is already using a microcluster approach based on the rising positivity rate of the virus in a region. An area is declared a yellow, orange or red zone, with corresponding restrictions, including limits on public gatherings and potential closures of businesses like gyms and hair salons.