Being an NYC millennial has many benefits and drawbacks. If you are one, you probably live in one of the outer boroughs, work grueling hours at a highly demanding job, and barely make enough to pay your exorbitant rent. But one of the biggest – and least talked-about – expenses is how quickly one can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars a month on restaurants.
Speaking as someone who has lived here for less than a year, one thing I’ve noticed is that restaurant eating is the crux of just about everything – a bodega breakfast sandwich and coffee on the way to the train, a Sweetgreen bowl for lunch at my desk, and by the time I get home, delivery pizza or Chinese because I’m too exhausted to cook. Like it or not, this lifestyle will devour your budget. I was spending over $1k a month on just restaurants – and not always good ones. Sometimes, it was a random midnight McDonald’s run or a mediocre deli chosen out of convenience, not for how tasty or affordable it was.
If you’re like me, though, COVID-19 has thrown a giant wrench into the gears of your life. I’m on Week 6 of staying home from work, and with almost all grocery delivery services woefully unavailable, the question becomes, “What do we do?”
The social vs moral obligation to eat out
Before COVID-19, New York life included a serious collective social obligation to eat out – what restaurants you ate at were a sign of status. You may live in a crappy apartment with five roommates, but publicly, you’re eating at Momofuku like it’s no big deal. Now, with bans on socializing, there isn’t the same expectation to maintain a facade of status and success based on where you’re eating.
Instead, there is now a moral obligation to support the restaurants in need. Many restaurants across the country are being forced to shutter because of sizable payrolls (with many entry-level positions), steep delivery app fees (as much as 30%!), and expensive locations sitting empty. Restaurants are having to quickly think on their feet and adapt to this drastically changing climate, and frankly, many are not going to make it out alive. As a food blogger, I feel it’s important to recognize that eating out is critical to the livelihoods of many small businesses and their employees.
What I’m Noticing
Especially with job security being precarious for so many people, finding ways to save money is incredibly important, but keeping what money you do spend in the community is just as important. I’m grateful because I’m saving money by not eating out for convenience, so now I’m making the choice to eat out to help out small businesses. What works for me is setting Friday night as our delivery night, and we choose a local restaurant that could use our support.
How about you? Before coronavirus, did you feel a social obligation to dine out? How are you handling your food budget during this time? Are you supporting local restaurants? Comment your thoughts. I want to hear them!