NY Times cafeteria feeds for free during Sandy

Restaurant Associates worked overtime to feed bustling newsroom during storm.

Nov. 1—The news never sleeps, or in the case of Hurricane Sandy, shuts down, which is why the cafeteria at the NY Times Building in New York, offered free food to busy newsroom employees during the worst of the storm earlier this week.

The building’s foodservice, which is managed by Restaurant Associates, opened the cafeteria on Sunday, when it is normally closed, and continued extended hours through Tuesday. All food and beverages were offered to employees for free.

“It was getting difficult for people to get away from their desks given the amount of work that was coming in,” says Angelo Salvatore, executive director of building services for The New York Times Company. “We made a decision that given the effort that everyone was giving to make it into the building and get the news out, we wanted to give something back.”

Services included multiple coffee cart runs in the newsroom and extended hours in the cafeteria, according to Matt Wallace, general manager for RA at the account. Coffee carts were expanded to offer snacks and pastries. Vending machines were filled with sandwiches and other items from RA’s Quick Pick snack line. The cafeteria operated continuously from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday—usually the cafeteria closes between meals—with service from two stations, the grill and a pasta/salad bar.

“We were also able to get desserts eventually,” Salvatore says. “The burgers were just flying out the door. People came in and they really appreciated the service. Plus, I think they tried things that they might not have typically eaten from us. It all worked out very well. The newsroom is a 24-hour operation, so we also offered Quick Picks and left our beverage boxes open so people could come and grab snacks and beverages.”

Salvatore says the department lucked out with the timing of the hurricane because the cafeteria usually gets a large delivery on Fridays.

“As we were making preparations we were able to adjust the menu that we had planned for the week. We were able to adjust that throughout the day to serve the food we had in house.”

Salvatore and Wallace agree that the biggest challenge of the service was staffing. “There came a point where we knew we were going to have a really difficult time getting people into the building, so we gathered a core group of four employees and got them hotel rooms,” Salvatore says.
On Monday, as the storm was rolling in, they wanted to send as many staff members home early as possible. Then as the storm cleared on Tuesday, staff members started trickling in as they could get to the building to supplement the core four who had stayed in a hotel. Salvatore says his best advice for dealing with an emergency situation is to develop a strong relationship with vendors.

“The relationship you cultivate with your vendors when times are good really carries over when you have issues,” Salvatore says. “[RA] understood the business and understood what needed to get done. It’s not a matter of telling folks they have to be here. They know they have to be here. It’s just a question of us trying to match services with the actual needs of the location. But we knew they were going to get it done.”