The restaurant industry is resilient, but it needs you now

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A week ago, the restaurant industry collapsed. Not so long ago we were making plans for spring menus, promotions and press. The dining rooms were busy and the idea that we might be closed so abruptly had not yet occurred to anyone. Now many restaurants in America, from small family and pop shops to famed restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Hospitality Group, find themselves shuttered with their staff laid off so they can claim unemployment benefits in this time of crisis.

I had planned to celebrate my own 5 year business anniversary this month in some capacity; instead, I too had to reduce my staff, not knowing if my restaurants would be open next month. Currently some of them aren’t, and I don’t know when they’ll be back depending on how this all continues to unfold. Those who have to deal with a wave of terrible emotions, emotional layoffs and the complete reconfiguration of their businesses in a matter of days.

This pandemic will not only take lives, but also livelihoods. I say this not to downplay the health crisis, but to draw attention to ways I can at least contribute to the things I have seen happening in my world.

First, some recent facts from CNBC:

-The National Restaurant Association predicts a $225 billion drop in sales over the next three months due to the coronavirus outbreak.

-The industry group is asking the federal government for financial relief for restaurants and their employees.

-The National Restaurant Association has requested a $145 billion stimulus fund from the Treasury Department for the restaurant and restaurant industry.

(Tell Congress to support restaurants and workers during the recovery, here.)

Restaurants also need rent/mortgage relief, staff need paid medical leave and free COVID-19 testing (but that’s just the start for a long-running industry change).

On the ground, the view is different. Restaurant owners don’t have time to wait for Congress and are doing everything to survive.

Delivery is underway, but I think it’s actually starting slower than it will get since the majority of people (at least in Orange County, CA) seem to have had their fill, in depending on the emptiness of store shelves. When those supplies run out (or they have had enough of the food), restaurants will hopefully (subject to distancing and shelter-in-place rules) still be allowed to open for take-out and delivery. It is then that we will begin to struggle.

And, if the pandemic gets worse, or if it happens in waves as the Center for Disease Control says, more people will end up taking it even more seriously, which will lead to fewer trips to the store where people are. gather.

WHAT RESTAURANTS CAN DO:

1) Family meals, meal kits and quarantine kits

If you have a handful of signature dishes on the menu that are doing well, turn them into take-out, family-style portions. I’ve also seen great taco kits (up to 20 tacos per pack), pasta kits, buildable burgers and more from restaurant owners looking to provide the same great quality of food to customers. at home.

Another thing that works really well is Chef Amy Lebrun’s Quarantine Kit at Lido Bottle Works in Newport Beach. She packs a gallon of milk, a pound of butter and an ever-changing blend of protein, farmer’s market fruits and vegetables and more in $45 packs. The response from the community has been amazing.

One thing to avoid, I would recommend though, is going overpriced with offers if you can help it. I know there are inherent costs to running the show and, more importantly, surviving, but I can’t stress enough the current importance of getting a head start by having the state of mind that we cannot handle as restaurants as we knew them. be more, at least for now.

If we can push quantity in any way we can, let’s focus on getting people what they need when needed, especially if we’re heading into recession (in an election year, during a pandemic) and spending becomes more stringent. I don’t know the specifics of your business, but try to balance that if you can.

2) Restaurants as grocery stores

I’ve seen clever restaurant kingpins of all types, selling their sauces, components, and even staples, including fruits and vegetables, breads, pastas, rice, toilet paper, and more for slight markups on the cost, but less than you would pay in most stores. . Again, not optimal, but that’s the kind of creativity we need right now.

3) Curbside Takeout

Contactless sidewalk is here to stay for now. If you can accommodate this, create an online store or phone ordering system that will ensure people can get what they need from you without having to leave their car. Craft House in Dana Point has further upped the comfort food quotient on their long take-out menu, and they throw in a roll of toilet paper with every order, telling guests “You have our backs, so we have your backs.” MDR.

4) Cocktails/Beers to go

In California, liquor laws have been temporarily changed to allow restaurants to send cocktails to takeout if sold in sealed containers. I suggest making classic cocktails and signature drinks that care well and pour over ice. Let’s also take a moment to throw the word Gallon-rita into the mix, because people want to drink while they’re social distancing. If we can sell in quantity (responsibly), let’s go.

Some people are even starting to drink and dine as a group over video chat as if they were out for the night. The more comfort we can offer in the form of affordable, accessible and delicious food and drink during this time, the more they will turn to us.

5) Revenue sharing

People are going to be stuck at home for a while and the best way to keep your restaurant top of mind while they can’t go out as often is to share one of your favorite recipes with them. It might not taste exactly the same, but when we can go out again, I bet they’ll be craving exactly what you gave them.

BONUS POINTS for introducing them to cooking on video. DOUBLE BONUS POINTS if you’re a legend like the father of French cuisine in Orange County, Pascal Olhats, who shares a ton of classic recipes on his personal Facebook page.

6) Take care of each other

Over the weekend, a group of chefs from Orange County, led by Pitmaster Daniel Castillo of Heritage Barbecue and Chef Blake Mellgren of Craft House in Dana Point, worked to feed 1,500 people economically impacted by COVID- 19. EATER LA and FOX 11 were among the regional media to take notice of their efforts. The remaining sandwiches were donated to Bracken’s Kitchen, an Orange County nonprofit kitchen and food truck that feeds food insecure people in their own neighborhood.

At Angelina’s Pizzeria in Irvine, affected employees can eat for free, and all members of the service industry will receive a 50% discount on their take-out orders.

These efforts go a long way. The look on people’s faces as they got free beer and sandwiches was so worth it.

WHAT CAN YOU, AS A MEMBER OF THE CATERING PUBLIC, DO TO HELP?

Check at your local restaurants.

There have been suggestions to buy gift cards for the return to normal, but who knows when that will be? I would suggest making a list of your favorite local places and visiting their websites, social media or making a call to see what they offer during this time.

If you can frequent them for meals, or for components and supplies, please do so as often as possible. They need you more than ever.

With that in mind, a coalition of restaurants created the GREAT AMERICAN TAKEOUT on Tuesday, March 24, to get everyone who can patronize a local restaurant in a show of support for the industry. at national scale. We hope you pick your local favorite and show them you care!

Niyaz Pirani is the owner of Knife & Spork Public Relations, a social media and public relations firm in Orange County. He was a former writer on food and entertainment, among the beats, at the OC Register and OC Weekly.

Opinions expressed in community opinion articles belong to the authors and not to Voice of OC.

Voice of OC wants to hear different perspectives and voices. If you would like to comment on this or other issues, please email opinions@voiceofoc.org.

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