In addition to the severe cost of human health and life, the novel coronavirus, or more formally referred to as COVID-19, has wreaked cultural and economic havoc across the globe. For the restaurant industry, it has become a tsunami of stress, anxiety, and transformation. The intrinsically linked network of restaurant chains, mom and pop shops, chefs, and independent farmers that have exhilarated tastebuds and palate is now shattered.
Matthew Delsignore, a sushi chef and active voice within the food community, has witnessed the abrupt change firsthand. In this article, Mr. Delsignore discusses how the cuisine world and its working professionals are adapting to the pandemic as well as potential long-term repercussions.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 5 million people work in the foodservice industry or related jobs. Full-service restaurants, limited eating venues, specialty food services as well as drinking (alcoholic beverages) places fall under the food services umbrella.
Thus far, every major city within the U.S. has experienced a significant drop in restaurant patronage. Booking Holdings, the parent company of OpenTable, a popular online restaurant reservation service, reported that seated dining had plummeted 98% compared to the same time last year.
Furthermore, financial analysts estimate that of the one million-plus restaurants across America, as many as 20% could permanently shut their doors due to the outbreak. Independent businesses are at particularly high-risk.
Takeout is King
Per the data above, as a result of stay-at-home orders across the nation in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus, dining out is a faint dream of yesterday. Though, due to the expansion and maturity of the online and mobile prepared food ordering and delivery marketplace in recent years, restaurants have found a life support opportunity.
Most restaurants are operating with a skeleton crew to abide by social distancing guidelines in addition to economic factors. Yet, the pressure to persevere in these uncertain times is substantial. Employers are either retraining employees to deliver meals or relying on the tech of Grubhub and Ubereats to retain patronage. Either way, the fate of the industry strays on a knife’s edge as the landscape has been forever changed.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, world-renowned chef and restauranteur, David Chang, expressed that “without government intervention, there will be no service industry whatsoever”.
Food is a necessity of life, but so easily taken for granted. As service workers clock in for the front line to ensure their local communities are fed, public perception of their value as working professionals may permanently change for the better.
In light of the situation, workers, industry leaders, as well as politicians have argued for a living wage, paid sick leave, health benefits, and even hazard pay. Naturally, not every business is in a position to meet these humane demands, but giant corporations can no longer turn a deaf ear.
Darden, the parent company of Olive Garden and Yard House, implemented sick leave for its restaurant workers after facing criticism for its out-dated policies. Still, CEOs may view this as an interim solution for a short-term problem. However, once the economy stabilizes and a sense of normalcy is restored, it may be difficult to dismantle these essential benefits.
Restaurants represent more than a vacation from sweating over the stove. Dining out is a cultural experience that impresses upon us the joys and beauty of life. For example, in Japan’s demanding work culture, izakayas (pubs or taverns) provide a much-needed stress-free environment where people can express themselves. But the fact remains a future where restaurants safely reopen looks drastically different from what people remember.
The underlying buzz that gives voice to the restaurant’s atmosphere may diminish due to social distancing measures and temperature checks before being seated at a table. Though, as a society, we can hope that the path forward allows us to retain a flicker of the excitement and decadence that once existed between customers and their local food communities.
About Matthew Delsignore:
Matthew Delsignore is an expert in the restaurant business, particularly specializing in Asian cuisine. A position of a sushi chef at a new establishment allowed Matthew Robert Delsignore to share not only his love of food but also his knowledge of the industry. He is best known for his work ethic and enthusiasm, combined with a passion for fitness.