The Demise of Your Favorite Restaurant.
You ought to be upset. That restaurant where your honey popped the question or the tavern where you and your friends watch Monday night football isn’t opening its doors again. And, it didn’t have to be this way.
I’m not suggesting we didn’t need social distancing, but we now have a situation that has put more than 15 million U.S. restaurant workers potentially on permanent furlough. First off, we know that the hospitality industry has been maybe the hardest hit sector of the economy, and the vast majority of nearly one million restaurants nationally are closed. Unfortunately, business interruption insurance doesn’t cover pandemics.
Secondly, as distancing rules ease, what’s being proposed for restaurants is financially unworkable. They’re being told that half their seats can’t be sat at the same time. In other words, Mr. and Ms. Restaurateur, your maximum capacity is 50%, which, for an industry that makes a nickel on every dollar of revenue, isn’t sustainable. Oh, and while we’re at it, your server staff needs to wear gloves and masks, and your dining utensils need to be covered in plastic. That sounds awfully romantic! BYOM = Bring Your Own Mask.
Finally, the damn U.S. forgivable loan program known as PPP is RIP for many independent restaurants. What’s up? More than 200 public companies applied for at least $855 million from the government program that was billed as emergency funding for small businesses without access to other sources of capital. The hastily developed government program seems to be bailing out homogeneous chains but ignores the local restaurants that are the souls of their communities.
Fortunately, a few high-profile public company restaurants like Shake Shack, Ruth’s Chris, and Potbelly have given their money back, but tell that to Gabrielle Hamilton, the owner of Prune restaurant (one of my favorite NYC places). She’s seeing her twenty-year dream go down the drain. She closed her restaurant on the same day we closed the Modern Elder Academy, March 15. Here’s a poignant article from her that recently appeared in the New York Times.
The James Beard Foundation and the Independent Restaurant Coalition recently released the results of a survey that shows the vast majority of owners of independent restaurants - almost 80 percent of them - don’t think the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) stand a chance of saving them. Given how everyone is rushing for and needing this money, it feels a little like the desperate search for lifeboats on the Titanic (the ship only had enough spaces for half the passengers...talk about bad design!).
America’s restaurants are in chains and, if we don’t watch it, we’ll only have monoculture chain restaurants as our definition of U.S. food & beverage culture. Who will support the local farmers? Who will take risks buying from tiny distillers and craft breweries?
Who will you patronize when you start dining out again? To become a customer means you’re accustomed to supporting a business. Be a customer supporting local restaurants. Otherwise, you’re just a consumer.