Fine-dining restaurants saw definite changes in their sales mixes and operations while the nation was gripped in an unprecedented and prolonged heatwave in July and early August. Here are some of the shifts a sampling of operators reported from Washington, D.C., while hellish conditions were in force.
Beverages were a hotbed of change
Not surprisingly, guests scouted drink menus for options that struck them as refreshing, be it a wine or a mixed drink.
"There has definitely been an increase in glasses of lighter styles of wine in Jônt; specifically, requests for Sauvignon Blanc (i.e Sancerre) and definitely a lot more crisp Champagne,” said Andrew Elder, general manager and beverage director of the two-Michelin-starred Washington, D.C., restaurant. “If guests are ordering red, they are leaning more towards Pinot Noir and aged Rioja.
The restaurant also fielded more requests that a glass of wine or a cocktail be accompanied by iced water—still or sparkling—or a chilled soft drink. As a result, the establishment found itself going through more citrus garnishes than usual.
The preference for whites also extended to spirits, reported Thomas Menaitreau, general manager of one-Michelin-starred Bresca, with requests for brown liquors diminishing accordingly.
He also noticed an upswing in orders for fruity cocktails, which customers indicated they’d rather not sip on the restaurant’s outdoor patio.
A sales standout at Immigrant Food was the restaurant’s Mint Limonana, a Middle Eastern riff on lemonade.
“It's popular throughout the year, but this summer it's sold incredibly well, especially with the heat in D.C.,” said Téa Ivanovic, founder and COO of the District restaurant.
Guests weren’t the only ones who veered away from their usual beverage choices during the heatwave.
"We make a pre-shift staff meal at Nama Ko and during the summer we elect a chef or cook to make that day's drink,” explained Executive Chef Derek Watson. “During the summer we make different agua fresca. Each chef can make whatever they want based on where they are from or what they really love to drink.”
A particularly popular antidote to this summer’s triple-digit heat was a treat from a Guatemalan sous chef. He “loves using the leftover pineapple trim to make a hibiscus-lime and pineapple agua fresca that we keep iced down during service in the crazy D.C. summers,” said Watson.
As an added benefit, “It's great for everyone on the team to learn about each other and feel part of a family, as well as an avenue for creative expression," he added.
The chef also shared a heat-beating hack from his past.
"As a line cook during the summer, I used to bring an extra chef's jacket with me to work when I was on a woodfired grill station. Standing in front of a 600-degree live wood fire during summer is not fun,” Watson recounted. “So I would soak my backup jacket in water before service and hang it in the walk-in freezer. When the heat got to be too much I would step off line and change into the frozen chef’s jacket, returning to service to finish fresh and cool."
Anything cold was hot
The exceptionally hot summer has not exactly been a boon for molten desserts, as Lutece Executive Pastry Chef Isabel Coss can attest.
" I’ve seen more frozen dishes go out—sorbets, ice cream, and fruits are the star right now,” she said.
“I've changed my way of cooking to accommodate to the heat as well,” she continued. “The fruit is so sweet and the chilis are spicier in the produce we're sourcing right now, so I use methods that tone the spice down to highlight the natural bright state of the produce."
In the same vein, Immigrant Food finds itself serving far more cold dishes, such as a signature Miso Caesar Salad and a summer gazpacho.
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