Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES Working

As Flu Rages, Food Workers Resist Calling in Sick

On a bench outside a small diner on the north shore of Staten Island, Stephanie, a waitress who handles busy breakfast and lunch services, sat for a quick break after the midday rush had died down. Perfectly healthy at the moment and soaking in some vitamin D from the bright winter sun, Stephanie admitted she didn’t know much about what her options would be if she were, “knock on wood,” to come down with the flu.

“I had a cold this year,” she said. “Not bad enough to skip work, though. Anyway, I work for tips, so it wouldn’t be worth it.”

Stephanie is one of many employees in the food-service industry we spoke with who have only a vague idea about their businesses’ sick day policies, a statistic that corresponds with a recent report from the Community Service Society of New York. According to the report, as of last year 55 percent of low-income workers covered by New York City’s Paid Sick Leave Law, which went into effect in 2014, had heard little or nothing about it, including 63 percent of those covered whose employers failed to provide sick days.

Those numbers could have serious implications during this year’s particularly bad flu season. Influenza and pneumonia, an occasional complication of the flu, cause more deaths each year in New York than any other infection, and the virus is highly contagious. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, so far this season four children have died from the flu, and more than 19,000 cases of influenza have been reported in the city.

“People think the flu is a bad cold, but the flu is a different virus and can be very severe,” says Mirella Salvatore, an infectious diseases expert at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York–Presbyterian, who notes this has been the worst flu season at the hospital since 2009, with around 200 patients per week at its peak.

“In a populated city, it’s really hard to escape the flu,” Salvatore says. “We go on the subway, we touch an elevator button, we’re in the gym. The glass you bring to the customer if you’re in the food industry, and then someone touches the glass, touches his face — the flu can be transmitted that way, because the flu can stay on surfaces up to six to eight hours.”

For most workers in New York City, the ability to stay home if they get the flu is a right that’s covered by the Paid Sick Leave Law, which guarantees employees who work at least eighty hours per calendar year the right to take time off when they’re sick, or if they need to care for a sick family member. Employees can annually accrue a maximum forty hours of sick time; if the business has five or more employees, the time off is paid, while smaller businesses don’t have to pay for sick time.

When it comes to food-service work, there are some special considerations. For example, employees whose wages are based on tips and are entitled to paid time off must be paid minimum wage for those paid sick leave hours, but aren’t entitled to lost tips. Employees who work shifts have the option of swapping shifts, but employers can’t require that they add shifts to make up for a missed shift.

“I’m not sure if we’d get paid, but anyway it doesn’t make sense to call out, working for tips,” said a bartender working in the Financial District, echoing the thoughts of many tipped employees we spoke to. “True, you’re putting yourself at risk, and others. It’s something to think about.”

Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy research and advocacy at CSS and lead author of its report, says employee knowledge about the sick leave law won’t improve without targeted outreach and enforcement efforts by the mayor’s office and the Department of Consumer Affairs, the agency tasked with administering the law. Though widespread advertising across media platforms has largely vanished since the law’s first two years, DCA says it continues to educate employers at hundreds of events, distributes tens of thousands of pieces of educational materials, and engages in partnerships with community and labor organizations to ensure the message goes out to their members.

“We are constantly working on this,” says DCA commissioner Lorelei Salas. “We recognize that there are still workers that need to know about this. We’re looking at how to target our outreach campaign to those workers who are, according to the report, less likely to know that the law exists.”

Some of the focus has shifted to enforcement, with the agency reporting that it has recovered more than $7 million to date in fines and restitution for workers. Still, while DCA can launch proactive investigations, a large part of that enforcement is dependent on complaints that have been filed through 311 or directly through the agency.

“Much of enforcement is complaint-driven — it relies on workers to know their rights, to speak up to their employer, or to lodge a complaint with DCA,” Rankin says. “But even if you’re armed with information, many of the workers — particularly in the food industry where you have a lot of immigrant workers — even if they know their rights, may be reluctant to complain to their boss or to lodge a complaint with a government agency.”

Additionally, even where employees know about the law, several we spoke to said they weren’t likely to call out sick because they felt they were essential, while others described an unspoken pressure to avoid using sick days.

“It was a hassle, trying to get that pay,” a waiter at a small restaurant in Brooklyn said about having taken a sick day under a former manager, who resisted paying him for the shift. A waitress standing nearby agreed, adding that she’d had an easier time at a larger restaurant she’d previously worked at, where structured HR systems made things like taking a sick day institutionally normalized. “Everyone knew about it, and it wasn’t a big deal,” she said.

Workers we spoke to at larger establishments and fast-food chains were, in fact, more likely to know about the law and feel comfortable taking a sick day. “I feel like corporate makes sure we all know,” said a woman fielding calls and constructing pizzas at a Domino’s franchise in Brooklyn. “They don’t want anyone, us or customers, getting sick.”

Ensuring that kind of knowledge of the law is key, says Rankin, who notes the pressure from the CSS report helped encourage DCA to hold a joint press conference with the health department to remind workers they should stay home if they’re sick. Rankin suggests additional outreach strategies could include advertisements in drug stores, notices to be sent home from schools with students, and possibly even amending the restaurant letter grade inspection system to include whether employees know about and feel able to take sick leave.

“There was all this hoopla when the law was launched, but there are new people entering the labor force all the time, people moving to New York City from other places, people changing jobs,” Rankin says. “Coca-Cola wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, we advertised when we launched that in 2014, we’ve finished that.’ Advertising and outreach has to be repeated and ongoing.”

She also sees the current flu season as an opportunity for Mayor Bill de Blasio to simultaneously increase awareness of the law and take credit for a measure that has positively benefited so many residents, and public health at large.

“The mayor should pick up his megaphone,” Rankin says. “We’re in the midst of a flu epidemic, and that seems like the perfect time to remind people that in New York City, most of us can now, if we’re sick, not go into work with the flu. We shouldn’t send sick children to school with the flu, and we’re able to do that because we have this law.”

As we enter the second half of the flu season, which runs through May, Salvatore recommends diligent hand-washing and the use of hand sanitizer, adding that it’s not too late to get a flu shot to help protect yourself and vulnerable people around you. But if you do get sick, she says, do not put other people at risk.

“If you can stay home,” Salvatore says, “you should absolutely stay home.”

NOTE: An earlier version of this article misstated the figures in the Community Service Society: It found that 63 percent of those whose employers failed to provide mandated sick days did not know about the sick leave law, not that 63 percent of those who were covered did not receive sick days.

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Günter Seeger Brings His Brand of Micro-Seasonal Tasting Menus to New York

Developing a menu that satisfies more than most is difficult for any well-trained chef. However, when a chef changes a ten- to twelve-course tasting menu each day — all based on the micro-seasonality of ingredients — it takes a certain kind of leader to oversee the kitchen. Günter Seeger has proven himself up to the challenge at his newly opened restaurant on the border of the Meatpacking District and West Village, Günter Seeger New York (641 Hudson Street; 646-657-0045).

Nestled on the first floor of a townhome that dates back over 100 years, the staff makes guests feel at home immediately. There’s a clear view into an open kitchen from every chair in the house, and Seeger’s private art collection adorns the white-washed brick walls. And if the aesthetic doesn’t set the tone, Seeger can also be seen strolling through the main dining room chatting with guests about their dining experiences.

“This fall, it will be nine years here in New York,” notes Seeger, who moved to New York after closing his acclaimed Atlanta restaurant. “The reason to come to New York was really to open a restaurant here because mainly, you know, what New York is. It’s a thriving culture. It’s the best food city in the United States. I wanted to bring what I do to New York.”

Brûléed plum tart with fresh cinnamon leaf pastry cream and thyme
Brûléed plum tart with fresh cinnamon leaf pastry cream and thyme

For the chef, that meant appealing to a bigger, international clientele on top of an already passionate local crowd. And for a city that attracts nearly 60 million tourists, that means each day is a chance to create something new to impress everyone who walks through the door. Seeger explains that New York’s global appeal for diners with a variety of tastes is what keeps restaurants afloat in the city: “The high-end restaurant just needs that kind of audience.”

Seeger focuses on inspiring his team through quality ingredients and micro-seasonality, which means constantly monitoring the greenmarket for goods that disappear in the blink of an eye. It’s those challenges of embracing ingredients that have a brief lifecycle define Seeger’s style of cooking. “The flowering onions are there, but they may only last a week,” Seeger laments.

Scallop in bay leaf with Chanterelle mushrooms
Scallop in bay leaf with Chanterelle mushrooms

Some of the most recently featured ingredients on his tasting menu include snap pea gazpacho, bay leaf-wrapped scallops with Chanterelle mushrooms, and a brûléed plum tart with fresh cinnamon leaf pastry cream and thyme.

It’s a painstaking process to create and compose an ever-changing menu, but he explains that “it’s really the only way to get a vegetable that’s the best product — a great product is really the main focus.”

A look into the kitchen at Günter Seeger New York
A look into the kitchen at Günter Seeger New York

The restaurant currently offers dinner service with a five-, ten-, or twelve-course tasting menu with additional wine pairings. Larger parties and guests who don’t mind sitting with strangers can also opt for a chef’s table tasting inside the kitchen.

“As long as we are authentic in what we do, as long as we have personality, we will do the best we can,” Seeger says.


Thanksgiving Guide: All You Need to Know About Turkey Day Deals and Destinations

If the thought of an eight-hour layover followed by your drunk uncle’s ode to Donald Trump doesn’t exactly ignite the spirit of American heritage, you may want to consider the many other tasty alternatives to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Here are 10 great ideas:

If you want to spend the actual holiday helping people, but still want to eat a Thanksgiving-style meal, head to:
Angel of Harlem, 2272 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, Monday November 23 and Tuesday November 24
Instead of staying open on Thanksgiving, Angel of Harlem will be closed so chef Max Hardy and his staff can volunteer nearby at The Food Bank for New York City. Guests who wish to do the same can eat a few days in advance with a $45 per person pre-fix menu. The selection includes white cheddar mac n’ cheese, citrus and herb roasted turkey with cornbread stuffing, and braised short rib.

If you want to go out the night before, but can’t stand your hometown bar, head to:
Grand Ferry Tavern, 229 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, Wednesday November 25, 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Pre-game Thanksgiving eve with an all-day oyster happy hour, wine specials, and a $20 prix fixe menu. Dinner includes a draft cocktail, the Grand Ferry burger with fries, and bourbon ice cream. Oyster platters will be half-price during happy hour and range from $17.60 to $32.50, while any bottle noted on the wine list will be 50% off.

If you want to walk away with more than just leftover turkey, head to:
Artisanal Bistro, 2 Park Avenue, Thursday November 26, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
In addition to a five course prix fixe for $85 – 2 courses for $60 per child – each table receives a complimentary wine and cheese basket to take home. Guests can reserve two hour seatings beginning at 11 a.m., with the final seating taking place at 7 p.m..

If you want to re-enact the Mayflower voyage, head to:
The Water Table, West Street at India Street, Brooklyn, Thursday November 26, 4 to 7 p.m.
Set sail for Lady Liberty while enjoying Thanksgiving on the East River. For $95, pretend you’re a millennial pilgrim with a four-course dinner highlighted by greenmarket pretzels with maple mustard, organic turkey, and garlic mashed potatoes. Drinks – which are not included in the cost of a ticket – are available for purchase on board. Hop aboard here.

If you want a celebrity chef to do the cooking, head to:
Jams by Jonathan Waxman, 1 Hotel Central Park, Thursday November 26, 1414 6th Avenue
A nearby option if you plan on watching the Macy’s parade, diners can warm their bones with a a three-course dinner for $85 per person ($35 per child). The table setting includes Parker House rolls, pumpkin lasagna, and either turkey breast with sourdough bread budding, baked cod, or potato gnocchi. All traditional sides will be served family-style.

If you like turkey, but really prefer seafood, head to:
The Clam, 420 Hudson Street, Thursday November 26

If the bird is decidedly not the word in your family, settle down with baked littleneck clams accompanied by pancetta and crab and stuffed Maine lobster as part of a three course $90 prix fix menu ($25 for children). Desserts include pumpkin pudding with gingerbread cookies and spiced cream and hazelnut cheesecake.

If you want a European twist on an American holiday, head to:
Socarrat Restaurants, 259 W 19th Street; 284 Mulberry Street; 953 2nd Avenue, 12 to 9 p.m.
For $55, give Thanksgiving a Mediterranean twist with a variety of paellas, pan-seared lamb chops, and seafood casserole. The restaurant is also offering turkey stuffed with chorizo, apple, and dried cranberry as part of its three-course menu. Wine pairings are available for an additional $42.

If you usually celebrate Thanksgiving with a Tofurky, head to:
by CHLOE, 185 Bleecker Street, throughout November

If the thought of eating a gentle gobbler is too much to bear, grab a vegan-friendly Thanksgiving burger to dine in or bring to mom and dad’s. The patty is made with lemon-caper seitan and topped with kale, stuffing, rosemary gravy, and a fresh cranberry sauce.

If you need a gluten-free Thanksgiving, head to:
Madison Square Tavern, 150 West 30th Street
For $50, families with gluten-free eaters can avoid gravy drama by heading to this restaurant for butternut squash soup, sautéed red snapper with blood-orange butter, baked ham, or organic turkey. The restaurant is ending its three-course meal with a choice of chocolate bread pudding or roast pears with vanilla and coconut sorbet.

If you don’t like restaurant food, but hate cooking large meals, head to:
Foragers Market, 56 Adams Street, Brooklyn and 300 West 22 Street 
Grab a pre-carved local turkey, Cape Cod cranberries, New York apples, and pies from Four & Twenty Blackbirds at these DUMBO and Chelsea markets. Thanksgiving dinners can be ordered a la carte to your specific needs or chosen from a few themed dinner packages such as traditional and vegan. Wine pairings are also available upon request.

If you like restaurant food, but would prefer eating at home, head to:
Donovan’s Pub, 57-24 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens, Thursday, 11 a.m.
Grab your brother-in-law or daughter’s unsuspecting boyfriend and pick up a whole roasted turkey, sides, and sauces from this longstanding Irish favorite, which is offering meals for parties ranging from four to 16 people. Dinner packages – which range from $189 to $432  –  include a whole roasted turkey, a choice of salad, a choice of four side orders, gravy, and cranberry sauce. Orders must be placed by Tuesday November 24 for pick-up on Thanksgiving Day at 11 a.m..

If you’re just responsible for dessert, head to:
Bien Cuit, 120 Smith Street, Brooklyn, Tuesday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m./7 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Thanksgiving
If you want to steal the show, pre-order pies or buttermilk biscuits to pick up starting Tuesday November 24. The bakery is offering two nine inch pies – cocoa nib pecan and pumpkin caramel – for $35 each; buttermilk biscuits are $16.50 for a dozen.


10 Ways to Be a NYC Restaurant Bad Boy (or Girl)

We know: You went to culinary school hoping to woo ladiez (or dudez) with your chef skillz, didn’t you? Unfortunately, now you’ve graduated, and all you have is a job where you bust your ass on the line only to hang up your Crocs and pass out on your couch, Tindr still open on your cell phone, Top Chef reruns playing on TV, and nary a drink invitation in sight. Cheer up: There’s no guaranteed way to net and attain a legion of gastronomic fanboys and girls, but there are a few things new kitchen artists can do to help their chances of commanding the allegiance of the fooderati. Here are 10 ways to become a NYC bad boy (or girl).

If an area is sketch central, there's probably a great restaurant lurking nearby
If an area is sketch central, there’s probably a great restaurant lurking nearby

10. Open your first restaurant in a place that is sketchy
Call it Roberta’s Syndrome, but it seems that picking a gritty area for your charming offbeat concept is practically required if you want to hit a home run. Perhaps it bumps up guest perceptions: By the time they actually walk through the doors, they’re overwhelmed with relief that they’ve made it. If you’re forced to traverse an industrial wasteland before settling down for homemade mozzarella, that cheese is going to blow your mind.

Adny Ricker discussing his Thailand adventures
Adny Ricker discussing his Thailand adventures

9. Spend time cooking abroad — bonus points for winning the approval of the locals
Ivan Orkin and Andy Ricker are two prime examples of people who went to a foreign land and are now crushing it in the food world. Yes, it’s great to hear about a formally trained graduate kicking ass in fine dining institutions, but current food culture embraces the exotic. And going outside the traditional schools of cooking is easier to do in countries that aren’t France or the United States. If all else fails, you can still talk about your time in the Ghanian wilds with the smug superiority of an exceptionally cultured individual.

Are these guys hobos...or amazing chefs?
Are these guys hobos…or amazing chefs?

8. Get a beard and forearm tattoo
Chefs should be judged by the decisions they make in the walk-in fridge and not the walk-in closet, but proclaiming your love for pork, carrots, salt, or foie gras by making a permanent alteration to your body establishes that you’re drop dead serious about your craft. And why have a butchery chart on your wall when you can have it on your chest?

Stylish head pieces are a sign of a stylish chef
Stylish head pieces are a sign of a stylish chef

7. Wear a bandanna when being interviewed
Hairnets and toques are a thing of the past, unless you’re working a thankless fast food job or in some uptight French kitchen. The bandanna signifies that you care about not getting hair in the food you’re making, but that you’re cooler than those white tablecloth kitchen magicians uptown.

Keeping it to cash can thin out the crowd
Keeping it to cash can thin out the crowd

6. Make your restaurant Cash Only
Sure, this’ll annoy the corporate types who want to charge the company Amex, but you’ll be ensured a legion of diners who live to drop phrases like “I mean, it’s cash only, but it’s totally worth it” into conversations with friends (it’s a status symbol, see). And hey, a passionate customer base is essential to success.

The Beetbox salad
The Beetbox salad

5. Have at least one awesome vegetable dish on the list…
While very few of us have gone vegan in the past couple of years, most of us have become flexitarian gourmands. And as the era of pork dwindles, being able to make vegetables really tasty can kick start a career — and it makes you look sensitive, too.

A chef chops up some pork. Notice bandanna on head.
A chef chops up some pork. Notice bandanna on head.

4. …but also love meat so much that you splash your nose-to-tail endeavors all over social media
It’s nice to reminded humans are still atop the food chain. We’re also sentient beings who love delicious animal fat, but a lot of us are into, you know, the environment and stuff, too. Showcasing your knife skills and ability to use all parts of the pig will get you more than just likes and retweets — it’ll likely gain you a flesh-loving entourage.

Foraging in chef linens is the coolest
Foraging in chef linens is the coolest

3. Forage on your day off
If spending a majority of your time in a windowless kitchen doesn’t make you want to connect with nature as much as you can, consider the fact that diners love a good foraging story. Woo the pretty one in the corner by delivering a dish with a side of thoughtful discourse on, uh, hyperlocal terrain.

Pac man dumplings
Pac man dumplings

2. Put at least one high brow/low brow item on your menu — but don’t overdo it
The line between genius and Guy Fieri is finer than you’d think, so don’t go overboard on the hybrid dishes. Foie gras filled donuts and caviar topped pizzas might draw a crowd, but if you have a menu made up entirely of wacky combos, you might as well develop a competing recipe for donkey sauce.

If you appear in a competition, winning it would be a good idea
If you appear in a competition, winning it would be a good idea

1. Avoid cooking shows — unless you’re sure you’re not going to look like a total asshole
Television can help put a chef on the map, but it also has the potential to set you up to be perceived as a fame whore who can’t really cook. Sure, Harold Dieterle turned his Top Chef season one win into three well-received Manhattan restaurants, but that was before we were inundated with exasperating cooking challenges and obnoxious celebrity “chefs” who’d be fine with never getting behind the burners again. If you must do TV, do everything you can to win without looking like a total asshole. No one likes dining in the house of a loser.


Is There a Pastry Chef in the House?

I’ve been tasting a lot of desserts lately that are sloppy and off-key, that don’t quite make sense, that look and taste lazy or rushed. In each case, the kitchen lacked a pastry chef.

Dessert is an essential part of a great restaurant meal, but too many kitchens in New York seem to be operating without a pastry chef.

A kitchen can make ice cream in-house all it wants, but no cook will replicate the work of a dedicated, talented pastry chef — a person who thinks of nothing else but how to send out delicious desserts, who is always working to adjust the texture, refine the flavor, strengthen the riff, or whip up a special.

Alex Ray's lemon meringue pie at North End Grill
Alex Ray’s lemon meringue pie at North End Grill

Some kitchens do manage by limiting the dessert menu and working cleverly within their space and budget constraints, or by consulting with pastry chefs and carefully training their cooks. (And despite the stereotype, some savory chefs really can make good desserts.) But let’s face it, most restaurants without a pastry chef are struggling to provide the service of a proper dessert menu, and their desserts often look and taste amateur.

Do you need a reminder of why pastry chefs are crucial to a great restaurant’s team? Try the compelling dishes that Karen DeMasco serves at Locanda Verde, or the beauties Malcolm Livingston II turns out at wd-50. Visit Calliope for Shuna Fish Lydon’s seasonal desserts, pastries, and petit fours. Stop by North End Grill for a slice of Alex Ray’s glorious lemon meringue pie.

Malcolm Livingston's smores
Malcolm Livingston’s smores

New York’s pastry chefs set such high standards — I wish more restaurants would aim to compete at their level.


Creepy Alert: Restaurants Know More About You Than You Think

I remember my first time at Eleven Madison Park. I was with two friends, and while our waiter was cutting open the lavender honey duck, he looked me straight in the eye and noted that the duck was covered in Szechuan peppercorns.

“I know that you’re a food writer with a passion for Chinese food,” he said.

My friends enthusiastically applauded his attentiveness and the fact that he had taken the time to research us before our reservation. For the rest of the meal, whenever an Oriental ingredient popped up, he was sure to note it. I looked like a deer in the headlights. Creepy. This was a private meal between my friends and I, and I wasn’t eating for work. The entire atmosphere of the lunch was ruined.

Some may take restaurants’ dedication to finding out the background and habits of their guests to be a indication of great customer service. Others, like me, just find it plain intrusive.

A New York Times feature reveals some of the other creepy habits of some restaurants in the city:

1) They keep track of what color napkin you want: “. . . His server always knows that he prefers a black napkin (less lint) and wants only the ends of a loaf in his breadbasket.”

2) They know generally how much you will tip: “In many cases, they can trace your past performance as a diner; how much you ordered, tipped, and whether you were a ‘camper’ who lingered at the table long after dessert.”

3) They assign acronyms to your name — some too inappropriate to publish: “At some restaurants, HSM is short for heavyset man; at others, LOL stands for little old lady — two types of diners who may need special seating. Customers with bad reputations are often flagged HWC, handle with care.”

4) They categorize old bills: “Managers bristle at the suggestion that they keep this information so they can analyze an individual’s spending patterns; it is used primarily, they say, to answer customer billing questions and to provide receipts to those who have lost them.”

5) They know the name of your wife: “‘Sometimes a man will come in with another woman, not their wife,’ Ms. Nathan Genovart said. ‘You have to be very careful about what you say.'”

6) The regulars are awarded: “At RedFarm, everyone who shows up is put on a computerized waiting list, which becomes a file on each customer. Mr. Schoenfeld, the owner, said regulars get first dibs on seats when there is a long line at the door.”

And for the record, Google me if you want, but please don’t tell me that you did.


Turns Out, Yelp Ratings Really Matter to Customers

Believe it or not, but those Yelp ratings have a really strong influence on whether a restaurant succeeds.

According to Techcrunch, two Berkeley economists found that a half-star improvement on Yelp’s five-star rating makes it 30 to 49 percent more likely that a restaurant will sell out its evening seats.

The researchers combined Yelp reviews of 328 San Francisco restaurants with a database that tracked real-time reservation availability from 6 to 8 p.m. They found that the power of Yelp to fill a restaurant’s seats held up even when controlling for the decor, service rating, and cost.

From the Guardian:

The study found that the movement from 3 stars to 3.5 stars increased a restaurant’s chance of selling out during prime dining times from 13 percent to 34 percent. Moving from 3.5 stars to 4 stars increased the chance of selling out during prime dining times by 19 percentage points.


Restaurants Adding Mandatory Tips Because of Canadians

The news comes to us from ABC News, which reports that some restaurants in Vermont are adding mandatory tips because of cheap foreigners.

The policy has some people accusing the restaurants of discrimination, but owners are maintaining that the policy is necessary.

Owner Sandy Kong told ABC News that she usually only adds on 18 percent to a group of five or more and for customers that aren’t good tippers. “But some Canadians come in, they spend like $100 or $150 and they leave the wait staff maybe a $1 tip,” she said. “It happens pretty often. I realize that the Canadians think it’s discrimination, but on all the receipts it’s printed out on bottom — ‘We suggest an 18 or 20 percent tip.'”

The news station reported that a customer got fronted with a mandatory tip just because she and her family were speaking French.


Greenwich Village Restaurant Apocalypse, Summer 2012

Flatiron-shaped 10 Downing is down for the count . . .

The summer months in general, and August in particular, must be the most successful period for restaurants in certain parts the city. In Greenwich Village, the streets are thronged with free-spending tourists, and nearly every café can commandeer extra sidewalk tables that draw customers who don’t care how hot it is or even what they’re eating. But, ironically, there seem to be far more empty restaurant storefronts than usual in this historic part of the city, just when the highest volume of tourists is arriving. (Remember that in many European countries, employees still get the entire month of August off.)

Here are shuttered spaces in the Village. Want to start a restaurant?

. . . and, just down the street from 10 Downing, this ambitious failed establishment at 267 Sixth Avenue.

Currywurst Bros., a German sausage chain at 182 Bleecker Street, found the customers running in the opposite direction. You won’t be surprised when you see why.

The former KFC-Taco Bell at 331 Sixth Avenue has never recovered from the rat infestation . . .

. . . and neither has the storefront directly to the north, at 333 Sixth Avenue.

The temporary signage is a tip-off that this coffee shop — a refugee from Waverly Place — might be just squatting. The previous tenant was a failed coffee shop.

Even Pinkberry couldn’t make it at 177 Bleecker Street.

At least 193 Bleecker Street has found a new tenant — with the rather alarming slogan: “It’s not yogurt, it’s Yogorino!”

Next: even more

Greek stalwart Gus’ Place, once located near the corner of Waverly just west of Sixth Avenue, was forced to move to 192 Bleecker Street by real estate pressures five years ago, and now the new incarnation has gone belly-up.

Meanwhile, carts are multipying, charging the same prices as brick-and-mortar locations, but offering none of the creature comforts.

Many months ago, the Grey Dog was driven out of its flagship location at 33 Carmine Street by rent increases, now it’s finally being replaced — by an establishment with more sketchy temporary signage.

Pink Teacup was the last hapless tenant at 88 Seventh Avenue South and before it, a string of failed restaurants. Looks like another is about to occupy it.

This mini-outdoor seating area on Seventh Avenue South has a second entrance at 163 West 10th, which used to be occupied by the popular and long-running Italian café Tanti Baci.

Plucky local gelateria Love managed to make it through the last winter season at the corner of Perry and Seventh Avenue South, plugging its pastries and coffee, but ironically closed just as the gelato and tourist seasons were getting into full swing.

Located at 183 West 10th, I Tre Merli was the wine bar branch of a Soho Italian restaurant and distinguished itself by decent wine prices and above-average snacks, but to no avail.

The space that once housed the city’s only tiramisu parlor at 131 Christopher Street is once again vacant.

Check out Hudson Street’s 2009 restaurant apocalypse.

And its reversal.


10 Best Eats in Carroll Gardens, 2012

There’s a lot of good eating in bustling Carroll Gardens, where the neighborhood’s old Italian purveyor, Caputo’s Fine Foods, supplies fresh mozzarella and bread to many of the new Southern-fried sandwich shops and young bistros. Here are my top spots at the moment to stop in for seriously good lunches, on-the-go snacks, and lovely but casual dinners (for good measure, there’s a butcher shop and cocktail lounge in here too).

Added 8/4: With apologies to Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, I consulted a google map for the boundaries. So please consider this a list of great eats from both neighborhoods if you draw the line at Degraw.

10. Van Horn Sandwich Shop
Owner Jacob Van Horn is from North Carolina and his little cafe on the Cobble Hill border turns out simple, Southern-inspired dishes like dainty hush puppies, fried chicken sandwiches with cabbage, and a lovely riff on a BLT, which swaps out the bacon for fried sweet potato. It’s a great, low-key spot to cozy up to the bar with a vinegary pulled pork sandwich and a beer. 231 Court Street, Brooklyn, (718) 596-9707

9. Buttermilk Channel
Owner Doug Crowell zips around this charming bistro on Court Street, keeping wine glasses full, and making everyone in the dining room feel at home. Ryan Angulo’s menu is a celebration of local businesses–pasta and mozzarella from Caputo’s, lobsters from the Red Hook Lobster Pound, and ice cream from Blue Marble. For a sweet deal, visit on Mondays for the $25, three-course menu. 524 Court Street, Brooklyn (718) 852-8490

8. Court Pastry Shop
Brothers Gasper and Vincent Zerilli own this charming Italian pastry shop, popular for its crispy cream-filled lobster tails and old-fashioned cookies. Monster cannoli shells are dark and crispy, with a filling that’s as smooth as cake frosting, but during the summer it’s nice to head back to the freezer for a steep cone of lemon-flavored Italian ice, which eats like a lemonade slushy. 298 Court Street Brooklyn (718) 875-4820

7. Clover Club
Julie Reiner’s lovely cocktail lounge offers a long, well-organized list of fizzes, swizzles and punches, along with some small bites. It’s a pleasure to sit at the bar and watch these serious drinks come together. And the Victorian, wood-paneled parlor in the back is a nice place to linger with drink after dinner in the neighborhood. 210 Smith Street, New York, NY (718) 855-7939

6. Mazzola Bakery
This tiny Italian bakery pulls hot bread from its ovens throughout the day, and there’s almost always a handful of regulars waiting. The long loaves of peppery, salami-studded lard bread, with a thin, shattering crust, are great eaten right away out of the bag while they’re still warm. 192 Union St, Brooklyn (718) 643-1719

5. Smith Canteen
Robert Newton, whose restaurant Seersucker reminded us there’s more to Southern cooking than fried chicken and grits, has a casual cafe just down the street with inexpensive options like $4 hot dogs with kraut and organic condiments, and $7 grilled pimento cheese with cured ham. Baked goods are sunny and surprising, like the chewy sunflower-seed cookies sandwiched with strawberry jam. 343 Smith Street, Brooklyn (347) 294-0292

4. Los Paisanos
This narrow, family-owned butcher shop is one of my favorite spots in the neighborhood (it actually falls just outside of the border, but I don’t get the chance to sing its praises very often!). Father and son Michael and Anthony Affronti are often behind the counter telling customers about their sweet blood sausages, hot Italian links, and small selection of dried goods. Whole piglets are available by special order, and if you don’t see a particular piece of meat you’d like, the butchers will happily cut it for you. 162 Smith Street Brooklyn, NY 11201 (718) 855-2641

3. Court Street Grocers
This wonderful grocery store sources exciting regional food products and puts together fantastic sandwiches throughout the day. The simple grilled cheese marries cheddar and apple butter–between two slices of Sullivan Street Pullman, it’s bliss. Court Street Grocers also hosts BYOB dinners which you can reserve in advance, three courses for $35 (at the moment they’re doing a series of summery clam bakes). 485 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY (718) 722-7229

2. Prime Meats
Brooklyn-based restaurateurs Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli’s German-inspired restaurant is a favorite for its fantastic cocktails, schnitzel, and the heftiest, most over-the-top roasted marrow bone in the city. Long, curvy, and served with a bright wad of gremolata and an entire head of roasted garlic still in the skin. 465 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY (718) 254-0327

1. Battersby
Co-chefs and co-owners Walker Stern and Joseph Ogrodnek run this teeny neighborhood restaurant, where they turn out that scruffy, generous, Brooklyn-style fare you think you’re familiar with, but with real attention to detail and delightful bursts of creativity. Call ahead to book the $65 tasting menu if you want to get a real taste of their style (and avoid waiting for a table). 255 Smith Street, Brooklyn (718) 852-8321