The coronavirus pandemic has been incredibly damaging to the restaurant industry and this is no new news. According to the National Restaurant Association, estimates of over 17 percent of food service establishments have closed their doors. In just the past three months, 10,000 restaurants have closed their doors permanently.
Predictions from experts in the industry purport that restaurants will continue to suffer throughout the next few months even as vaccinations begin across the country.
Restaurant Association members have commented that clearly people are not going out to eat with the frequency that they used to and suggested that we make a conscious effort to support our restaurants as often as we can. And yes, it takes a conscious effort to make restaurants top of mind and do whatever we can to insure that they are there and thriving when this mess is all over.
When having a vaccine was becoming a reality, the mood of the general public took an upswing, thinking we were rounding the corner on this pandemic and it would all be over soon. The reality is that most Americans won’t be able to get the vaccine until late spring or early summer, while a new mutation is spreading like wildfire. Vaccine producers estimate that the shot that has been developed will “probably” be effective against the new strain, but it has not been tested and no one really knows.
Meanwhile many municipalities have reinstated measures restricting indoor dining, still allowing outdoor dining. This is a mute point as we head into winter. Even in Florida where the temperatures have dipped into the low 20’s recently, dining outside is a joke.
So why should we really care. We should care because these businesses are not just retail locations that spew out food. These are businesses that are built on the backs of owner’s chefs, servers, dish washers, bar backs and bartenders. They are people who get up every morning and despite how tough it might be at home, put a smile on their faces and go to work for your pleasure.
So you’ve had a tough day. You stop on your way home for a blueberry martini and an appetizer at a restaurant with outdoor seating, you don’t even care if it’s cold. Feeling better already. Or you’ve worked from home with the kids in home schooling, trying to maintain your sanity and keep the noise down while you make business phone calls. And then there’s dinner.
No problem, that family run pizza shop, with their fire roasted pizza and calzones is just a few minutes away. You haven’t ordered from them for a while, you’ve kept the freezer stocked with frozen pizza from the grocery. Sure, it doesn’t taste as good, but you dump on extra cheese, extra pepperoni and some olives and it isn’t bad. And you don’t stop to think that by the time you added all the extras up, that frozen pizza cost you more than the one from your local pizza restaurant.
Calling it a day, you decide to order out and you dial the number- no answer. You wait a few minutes and try again. Finally a recording informs you that the number has been disconnected. What is an inconvenience to you at the moment, is the end of a dream for another family.
You see, the owner’s grandfather left his home country of Italy after the war. With his wife and a couple of suitcases, they came to America. They worked hard and started a pizza business with secret family recipes. You could never figure out what those secret ingredients were. Now, you never will. You see, his son, who ran the business now took his life a few days ago after the business closed.
This may be a made up story, but it is fiction until you plug in the real names.
You see, there are many more real stories than you can imagine. I came across two distinctly different reports from the state of Colorado. One that was devastating, and the other was a demonstration of what can happen when people care and take action.
The first story is about a woman who bounced around a lot in her life, living in many different locations. Her heart finally called Colorado home. She loved the town she found, the people and just the atmosphere of the area made her glow. She opened a bagel shop. She ran the shop from early morning till late at night. Her staff was comprised of high school students from the local area school.
People raved about her bagels, and the students loved working there. It was so amazing that she was nominated for the best new business of the year, and she won, but never knew that she had won.
You see, one student at the high school tested positive for the coronavirus. In response, the school district mandated that all of the students go into quarantine and school from home until further notice. As a result, she lost her entire staff. She could not run the store by herself and is a state of exhaustion and depression, she took her own life.
This is a real story, you can find it yourself if you like. No one stepped up to help her through until she would regain her staff. It was just a bagel shop in the town, not someone’s dream come true.
Now, turn the tables. In another town in Colorado, there was a different attitude as reported by CNN. A business owner wanted to support his friends who owned different restaurants in the town. Since the indoor dining was prohibited due to coronavirus, restaurants could still have out door and carry out service. But some of them had limited space or budgets to develop the outdoor dining areas. And let’s get real, who is going to bundle up and sit in an outdoor café when it’s 40 degrees or worse.
But when there is a will, there is a way and there is still carry out. So this fellow business owner set up his own small patio in the restaurant parking lot. In the space of one parking slot, he set up a table and chairs, a heater, and candles for ambiance. And he gets a carryout order from the restaurant, sits in his own outdoor “café” and enjoys his meal. He says he is careful to follow covid guidelines and respects social distancing. He even turns on a little music and makes it as fun as possible.
He and a few of his friends can socialize safely and hopefully keep another set of doors from closing and devastating a family and employees. Now it’s becoming a weekly tradition and he and his friends make the rounds to other restaurants in the area.
So if this idea sounds vaguely familiar to ya, then you are right. Ever hear of tailgating? The dictionary definition of tailgating is to host or attend a social gathering at which an informal meal is served from the back of a parked vehicle, typically in the parking lot of a sports stadium.
At this time, tailgating outside stadiums at professional and collegiate sporting events across the country has been banned outright or heavily limited sending many sports fans into withdrawal and depression. Well, there is another way. After all, tailgating is half getting together with your friends and the other half is eating your way through the game.
This is where situation meets solution. Bundle up and meet your friends in the parking lot of your favorite restaurant. It’s no different than sitting outside of a stadium in their parking lot. Set up your table, chairs, heaters ect. and see cheese flowing your way. All the while, you’re supporting a local business owner. And there’s no kitchen to clean up after the game.
But you ask, how am I going to watch the game. Easily. Football as well as other sports is now streaming live on computers, smart phones, tablets and other devices. So there you go.
But wait, it gets better. Bundle up and get ready for a birthday party, anniversary party, or an I’m Going Crazy Covid party. Get flowers from a local florist, a cake or cupcakes from a local bakery, and food from your favorite restaurant and celebrate in their parking lot. You might think that this is crazy, but the great thing about this idea is that you can successfully social distance from friends and family.
What is so crazy is having these events in your home. Social distancing is impossible while you are elbow to elbow at a table, on a sofa or cleaning up in the kitchen.
A friend of mine told me about her friend who hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for 11 family members and the girlfriend of her son. Everyone but the girlfriend got tested before the dinner e and she said that she felt fine. A week later, all twelve of them tested positive and three were in the hospital.
If we all made a conscious effort to patronize one local restaurant each week, every week, we could help these businesses stay in business. Many of them even have meal kits now for families of four or six, where you can take it home and cook it without making it. You’ll probably have leftovers for breakfast. And if your favorite restaurant does not have meal kits, ask them if they could make them. It will keep you out of the big box stores where half of the customers don’t even wear a mask. If the delivery costs make the prices too high, do curbside pickup. Every restaurant has it.
Take lots of pictures of your parking lot parties, or food that you have ordered for pickup and post it on Facebook. Perhaps you can get others to do the same. The more people that step up and enjoy it, the better the last part of this pandemic ride will go and we can be shaking hands again and getting rid of those bruised elbows.
I hope that this post puts a different perspective on the plight of our local restaurants and that you personally try this idea. There are lots of good ideas out there, if you have one, please share them with us.
Meanwhile, just to let you know, we at Dreamtex manufacture custom fabric napkins for restaurants, country clubs and cruise lines. Our napkins have the restaurant logo woven into the fabric. It is a great branding opportunity. You can find us at customfabricnapkins.com
Connect with us on our contact page and we will get back to you promptly.