At this point, no one can deny the dramatic effect that the novel coronavirus is having on daily life. Given the increasingly connected nature of the earth, it should come as no surprise that a pandemic would be devastating to humanity, and could change the way that we live for a long time.
One of the most impacted industries is the restaurant and service industry. Amid a global economic shutdown and quarantine, the industry that relies the most on people and patronage has been hit especially hard. According to Forbes, 44 states have closed dining in restaurants, limiting them only to takeout and delivery. By March 15, restaurant revenues in New York City alone were down 25 percent, with that number expected to increase as restaurants continue to shut down.
The impact on restaurant workers is not to be discounted, either. In most restaurants, a staff consists of hosts, servers, bussers, and all of the kitchen staff. With dining room closures, only the hosts and kitchen staff can remain. In a country where 6.6 million people filed for unemployment last week alone, restaurant workers have been disproportionately affected: hours worked for local businesses in the food and drink sector have declined 40 percent, and the number of hourly workers overall decreased 45 percent. With these figures in mind, the coronavirus has had a catastrophic impact on the food service industry.
“In general, restaurants are really struggling right now,” Annika Schenkel (12) said. “They are forced to constantly adjust in this changing environment as they try to balance good business with keeping employees with the company.”
Business in restaurants has changed dramatically since the coronavirus first began to gain traction in the United States.
“Since dine-in is no longer an option, carry-out has become more popular, and there is a noticeable shift in third parties like Waiter on the Way and DoorDash. Business is a lot more unpredictable,” Schenkel said.
Although chain restaurants are being hit hard, there is a large disparity between them and local restaurants. At times it seems like chain restaurants are more equipped to handle the crisis, since they typically have more resources and money to begin with. There are those who say, however, that local restaurants are actually surviving differently, and better, than their chain counterparts.
“I actually think that local restaurants are doing better than chain restaurants,” Aryana Carroll (12) said. “There is an emphasis on supporting local businesses throughout social media right now, and local restaurants tend to have their own standings in their respective communities.”
With the virus, restaurants have to adapt quickly, and the work environment in restaurants has been altered dramatically.
“Casa, where I work, has been doing a great job of keeping morale high by offering higher wages and more employee benefits. As far as emotional changes, employees are able to stop working if they feel uncomfortable working in these circumstances,” Schenkel said.
Restaurant practices, too, have changed, with a noticeable shift toward increasing sanitation and cleanliness inside.
“There are definitely increases in the sanitation efforts as hosts now wear gloves for the entire shift and constant sanitation of the restrooms and lobby are mandated. We have a list of cleaning tasks that we have to accomplish every night, both because good cleaning helps to lessen the virus’s spread, but also because it’s appealing to customers if they see us cleaning,” Carroll said.
Customer traffic makes up clear portion of a restaurant’s income, and it continues to change as the virus wreaks havoc across the country.
“Business has been pretty steady so far, and I think this will continue because carry-out gives people a chance to leave their homes in a healthy, safe environment in order to get good food,” Schenkel said.
Amid the chaos, a growing concern is when the return to normalcy will occur, and what that normalcy would look like post-coronavirus. An economic shutdown will have ripple effects across the economy, and restaurants can only stay afloat for so long if business continues to slow.
“Honestly, I don’t see restaurants going back to normal anytime soon. The earliest I would predict would be at least two months from now, and that’s wishful thinking,” Schenkel said. “People won’t be any safer in public until a vaccine is developed, so until then, all that’s left to do is just wait and push through. That’s really all we can do.”