Dealmaker dinners are back, and interns are ready to hit up the bars. Wall Street’s appetite is returning and New York City restaurants are gearing up for a rush.

Return of bankers and other finance workers to the office in New York City with a rise in happy hours and work dinners

Perched on 52nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenue in New York City is Gallagher’s, a Manhattan mainstay where diners come for the dark, clubby ambiance and stay for the steaks.

They make conversation from their places on ruby-red banquettes and carve into juicy cuts of sirloin, porterhouse, and filet. The restaurant’s Midtown location puts it not terribly far from the offices of big banks like JPMorgan Chase.

Trouble is, like many New York City restaurants, business for Gallagher’s has remained slow more than a year into the pandemic, although its owner recently told Insider that signs of life are returning.

"We had a party just the other day for a firm that did just go public," Dean Poll, the proprietor of Gallagher’s, told Insider in a recent telephone interview, declining to share the name of the firm.

The celebratory post-IPO gathering was the restaurant’s first such event since the pandemic began, he said, bringing a group of 25 impressively-clad people together in one of the restaurant’s private rooms.

"They drank expensive wines," Poll added, calling the bill at the end of the night "substantial." The wine bill itself, he added, was about $6,000, which averages out to $240 per person on vino alone.

Still though, the roar of Manhattan power lunches and closing dinners has yet to reemerge in full.

In spite of a strong showing from customers on the weekends, Poll told Insider that, as of early May, the restaurant was seeing on Monday through Friday foot traffic levels that are about 25% of normal business in more settled times. 

Plus, reminders of the pandemic linger: Many restaurants like Gallagher’s are continuing to employ contact-tracing and temperature-taking measures. As of Wednesday, New York City restaurants are able to operate at full capacity, although some restrictions around social distancing may still apply in the weeks ahead. 

But now, as offices reopen, Wall Street isn’t just hungry for deals, but also to get back to classic rites like frenzied working lunches or swanky dinners on the town to entertain clients and celebrate successes.

And, after a year, some businesses in New York say that the first heartbeats of activity from Wall Street are picking up again.

Goldman Sachs managers are shelling out for social happy hours to bring teams back together 

One Goldman Sachs partner, at the encouragement of CEO David Solomon, has recently been busy entertaining groups of partners at cocktail outings.

The idea, this person said, is that the events will help bring people together and remind them of the fun and camaraderie that comes with working side by side. This exec said they have their eye toward hosting a larger outdoor gathering at some point later on in the summertime.

A separate person familiar with Goldman’s social activities — who asked not to be identified discussing the company’s internal operations — told Insider that other senior Goldman managers are also being encouraged to spend the company’s cash on hosting similar happy hours and social gatherings, in order to entertain their teams.

A spokesperson for the firm declined to comment.

Meanwhile, even lunches have become transactional as of late. 

Some Wall Street firms have taken to comping employee lunches in a bid to woo them back, said Dilip Rao and Mohsin Memon, co-founders of the contactless food delivery startup Sharebite. 

"This is a tool that they’re using to bring employees back and feel more comfortable. It’s motivation," Rao said in an interview. "Food that’s paid for — people are really emotional and passionate about it."

He’s not wrong: Comped meals at banks can elicit fervent emotions.

During the first few weeks of work from home in April 2020, junior industrials investment-banking analysts at Goldman Sachs railed at management over their choice to shut off a policy of providing employees daily $25 meal stipends for dinners ordered to the office past 8 p.m, according to a leaked presentation exclusively obtained by Insider.

Rao and Memon are former investment bankers themselves, early in their careers having logged time at Credit Suisse and Bank of America, respectively. The product they’ve built, Sharebite, enables employees to order big batches of lunches or dinners and have them delivered in one fell swoop to offices via designated "Sharebite Stations." 

Part of the appeal is the hygiene aspect of contactless food delivery — and that led to Sharebite’s contractual business growing by 400% during the pandemic, the company said. 

Its focus on clean, safe food delivery has propelled the business to entice a who’s-who of big banks, asset managers, and white-shoe legal advisors, counting more than 30 firms in law and financial services — including Credit Suisse, Neuberger Berman, and Sullivan & Cromwell — as clients.

Young Wall Street is meeting up for drinks again

For the people who own and operate some of the Financial District’s most popular haunts for downtown banks’ after-hours crowd, this spring has been a welcome sigh of relief. 

In the past, the open-air bars and restaurants of Stone Street, a stalwart of the younger downtown crowd, called to mind the outdoor drinking culture of London’s City more than New York. 

But as the COVID-19 pandemic has proven, New Yorkers have embraced gathering outside with gusto. 

"People are coming back, and I see a lot of the same faces returning. But there are a lot of new faces, and I would say that it’s younger," Peter Poulakakos, the founder of HPH Hospitality, told Insider. "There’s a lot of younger people in Manhattan right now, and it provides a great liveliness to the city and to the restaurants."

HPH operates some of Wall Street’s most popular venues, from the Dead Rabbit on Water Street to the venerated Harry’s at Hanover Square just a few steps away, long frequented by traders working in the area. They also operate one of the Financial District’s most-frequented pizza spots, Adrienne’s, on Stone Street. 

But Poulakakos also said that the popularity of outdoor drinking and dining isn’t a panacea for downtown eateries. 

"Business is still going to be growing, but you want that inside business," Poulakakos said. 

"We’re obviously catering to everyone that wants to eat outside and we’re enjoying that and it’s been great, but we want to get back to normal business as well," he added. "The same way that the offices are slowly opening up, we need to slowly really expand our indoor operations back to the way they were."

Interns are getting jazzed about nights out

Some incoming interns at Goldman Sachs previously told Insider that they’re feeling jazzed about a chance to work from the office, and no doubt to experience nights out in New York in a post-COVID world.

Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are among firms welcoming interns back in-person this summer, but at Grand Banks — an oyster bar near Pier 25 which is based on the deck of a wooden fishing schooner on the Hudson River — the crew is seeing interest from employees at another bulge-bracket firm: Citigroup. 

Alexander Pincus, the CEO of Crew, the hospitality group that runs Grand Banks and other waterfront eateries around the city, told Insider that he’s begun receiving calls again from employees at Citi about making reservations at the floating bar, which is just a short distance from the bank’s global headquarters on Greenwich Street in Tribeca. 

It’s also a well-traveled locale for bankers coming from Goldman a few blocks south on West Street. 

While Grand Banks’ business used to primarily consist of walk-ins, Pincus said that they’ve transitioned to mainly taking reservations as a result of the pandemic. 

One recent Monday, he added, was Grand Banks’ best Monday ever, with more than 400 bookings.

Separately, at MealPal, a monthly lunch subscription service that launched in New York four years ago, cofounder and CEO Mary Biggins said the app is seeing a resurgence in customers who are reactivating their accounts as offices begin to open up.

MealPal reservations in April of this year were four times what they were a year ago, according to company data, and are now decreasing in residential areas like the Upper East Side and Brooklyn.

MealPal shared a ranked list with Insider detailing the companies whose employees have reactivated accounts through the end of April. Near the top were employees of BlackRock, Citi, and JPMorgan Chase, followed lower down on the list by banks like Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank. 

Biggins said that MealPal has used the pandemic as an opportunity to bring in new restaurant partners, such as Sweetgreen, Dig, and Shakeshack, to help keep embattled junior bankers fed during nonstop workdays.

Over at Credit Suisse, a source told Insider that what might be most alluring to employees of the Swiss bank is a jaunt to Eataly, which has a location on the edge of nearby Madison Square Park.

Indeed, the espressos and rich gelato offered by the confectioner are said to be a favorite of Credit Suisse bankers. While Madison Square Park is hardly the countryside, this person said, bankers still appreciate a few tranquil moments to take a breath in between the frenzy of doing deals.

‘I’m not betting against Lower Manhattan’

Speaking of soaking up the outdoors, finance bosses may be counting on one other source of support to buoy their hopes of getting people back to work: warmer weather. 

Restaurants are counting on it, too. 

On the East River, the revitalized South Street Seaport is seeing a return of some hustle and bustle — perhaps less bustle than pre-pandemic times, but certainly more than the last year has delivered. 

"We’re very encouraged by the foot traffic," Saul Scherl, president of the Tri-State region for Howard Hughes Corp., the developer of much of the Seaport district, told Insider. 

"We’re monitoring it closely," he added, "and hoping that the spring and the summer, into next fall, are going to be really strong foot traffic for what we have down here and, hopefully, for Lower Manhattan."

Scherl remembers when the Seaport was popular among traders from the New York Stock Exchange as a place to gather after work in the 1980s. 

Now, he hopes that Howard Hughes’ recent development of the area, including a redesigned Pier 17 that opened in 2018, will spur the same kind of crowds.

"I’m not betting against Lower Manhattan," he said. "After 9/11, I don’t think you can bet against Lower Manhattan."

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Reed Alexander, Carter Johnson, Dakin Campbell and Aaron Weinman May 20, 2021 at 08:21PM

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