Exclusive Comments from Today’s Restaurant Owners

“We’re doing a lot more sanitation. Everybody’s wearing masks. We closed our dining room.” So began our phone conversation last week with Ohio chef Jordan Hamons, enumerating practices that nearly all restaurant owners in the country have been forced to adopt this year.

At the top of mind for Hamons has been staff and customer safety. “We’re pretty quick about getting people tested, especially if they show symptoms,” continued Hamons. “Fortunately, we haven’t really had any issues with our staff. We haven’t had anybody get it [COVID-19].”

Despite the closure of her dining room and the unprecedented decline in restaurant attendance nationwide, Hamons’ current restaurant has “stayed pretty steady.” She explained how maintaining multiple streams of revenue for her business helped with her resilience as an operator, “We’ve always done takeout and delivery anyway, so we haven’t felt a big decline.”

Every restaurant is adapting this year. Masks are now required by all customers and staff in all Starbucks locations worldwider. Even the 64-year-old KFC has sunsetted its iconic “finger lickin’ good” slogan, as the coronavirus has taught us all about the risk of fomite-transmitted infection. KFC marketing materials will simply say “it’s good,” rather than “it’s finger lickin’ good,” until the company decides on its next motto.

(Find more information about how COVID-19 is transmitted from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. Be wary of any celebrity or media outlet advice regarding disease prevention.)

Even Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal sympathized with the onerous regulations placed on New York City restaurants. “You see restaurants trying to make it work with outside seating, plexiglass, turning the tables and spaces and sidewalks into places to dine, but you can tell it’s pretty tough.” Weisenthal continued, “And you also have to contend with multiple waves of coronavirus cases, which means that the regulations are constantly changing… I imagine if you’re a restaurant owner that already has very slim profit margins, it makes it really, really difficult to plan ahead, buy supplies, buy food, organize, you know, waiters, waitresses, schedules, and things like that. It seems brutal.”

That puts it mildly. At least one in four restaurants will permanently close this year, the highest rate of single-year bankruptcy in decades. The unemployment rate in Manhattan is the same as it was during some years of the Great Depression. Tragically, the suicide rate is also at its highest level since World War II. The percentage drop in U.S. second quarter GDP is the biggest collapse on record, worse than the lowest trough of the Great Depression.

“Just like the thought of having a business and trying to navigate this right now, just excruciating,” concluders Weisenthal.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania restaurant owner Adam Ozimek chimes in with his thoughts, “This is a really tough challenge, because you want to be a responsible member of your community when you see this risk.” He expresses a dilemma pondered by many restaurant owners, “Do we shut down and just, like, let the bars who are not safe absorb all the customers? Or do we wait?”

The rate of currently hospitalized patients with COVID-19 has fallen for one full month, but the battle is far from over. New deaths since yesterday total 572, and there are currently 38,657 patients hospitalized with the disease.

Graphic by The COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic (CC BY-NC-4.0). Photo by Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash

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