Thanksgiving is the biggest food holiday of the year, and while many Americans cozy up at home, for certain restaurants, turkey day has always been their bread and butter. Year after year, Eater SF is sent comforting menus for big buffets and festive spreads, particularly from restaurants that are downtown and near offices, hotels, and sparkling shops. Given the pandemic, business travelers were already grounded, office workers are still at home, and holiday shoppers are clicking online. But with the news this week that all indoor dining has been shut down (again), it’s official — Thanksgiving reservations are off the books. Here’s what that costs restaurants.
Presidio Social Club is known as a classic Thanksgiving destination, a fun clubby experience in the historic military barracks in the Presidio national park site. Thanksgiving is their “biggest production of the year,” says chef-owner Ray Tang, and the team usually starts roasting 30-lb turkeys at 3 a.m., so they’re ready to welcome families with a cocktail as soon as they waltz through the door, with everyone from grandmothers to toddlers dressed to the nines.
This year, the team did some hard turkey math. “Our poultry purveyor called, and said, ‘Do you want the same number of turkeys as last year?’ says Tang. The chef responded, “‘I don’t know how your crystal ball is treating you, but mine is cracked and disintegrated.’” Tang requested 100 smaller birds, to tuck into takeout boxes that feed 4 to 6 people, which will fly out over a few days. That’s a fraction of their usual beasts and business, given that the restaurant usually does 600 covers on Thanksgiving day alone, serving families that make those reservations a full year in advance. “We’ll be here next year!” Tang maintains. And in the meantime, to his longtime regulars, “If you don’t see something you want [on the menu], just ask.”
Yank Sing has been rolling out the dim sum carts since 1958, making it a holiday treat for many families, as well as big business lunches, served by two downtown locations (Rincon and Stevenson). Vera Waller, the third generation of the family, says Black Friday is usually one of their biggest days of the year, only behind Mother’s Day, and it’s the kickoff to a bustling holiday season. But Yank Sing runs on cart wheels and big volume, and they’ve had to completely reinvent their style of service this year. It’s the first time the kitchen has ever taken orders, as they literally never had a ticketing system before. “Our whole team is very apologetic when our guests come and find out we don’t have cart service … ” says Wang. She describes it as a gut wrench, “When you know your guests expect something, and you can’t deliver exactly what they’re expecting.”
For the holidays, Yank Sing was banking on the airy atrium inside Rincon Center, where diners like to slurp soup dumplings to the gurgle of the water fountain in the gleaming Art Deco building. The Rincon location alone usually does 1,400 covers on Black Friday, but technically, the atrium is an indoor space, sheltering diners from the rain and cold. With limited indoor dining, Yank Sing was hoping for 20 percent of their usual business this year. Given the news this week, that indoor dining is shut down, they just lost that. Waller says they may consider shuttering temporarily once again, or limiting service to takeout and delivery.
Meanwhile, the big hotel restaurants have gone dark, many putting away the holiday spreads. MKT Restaurant at the Four Seasons in San Francisco is usually known for their Thanksgiving feast with a fireplace and view over the holiday lights on Market Street, but a spokesperson confirmed that the hotel is closed until January, and the turkeys have left the building. The Four Seasons in Silicon Valley is still open, however, and they’ve become a holiday destination for the Peninsula, offering a traditional set menu and dessert buffet. This year, the hotel only reopened a few weeks ago, and its Quattro restaurant is still closed, although it’s not too late to order a turkey takeout box or reserve a private room.
After Thanksgiving, rolling into the holiday season, the Four Seasons Silicon Valley might be better known for their “Apres” outdoor pop-up, which is probably as close as Palo Alto is ever going to get to alpine-inspired fire pits, fur throws, onion soup, s’mores, and hot cocoa. That could be the better option this year, and Chef Martín Morelli is cautiously optimistic, although the details are still to be confirmed. “It’s super popular … people get into it,” says Morelli. “We’re still considering. But the layout could be perfect.”
But back at Yank Sing, in the cold fog of downtown San Francisco, Waller doesn’t have a sunny patio to deck with holly, and she worries about how many restaurants will make it through the winter without a stimulus package. For now, her family is just trying to make it through the holidays. “We just thank our lucky stars that we’re open…. To have all of our loyal guests, that literally will come in every week, just to support us…. It’s beyond humbling. I don’t know how to describe it, to be honest. Grateful is not even the word. Every day I wake up in the morning, as does my mother, as does my team, and we just think, we’re all lucky to be here today. You know?”