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Changes in Restaurant Business Model in Walnut Creek California in Response to COVID-19

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The James Beard Foundation is acutely aware of the health and safety concerns surrounding the current COVID-19 pandemic. We are also mindful of how this virus is negatively impacting the hospitality industry at large, both from a well-being and economic standpoint

Novel coronavirus COVID-19 is pushing the restaurant industry to think creatively as travel bans are put into place, cities cancel conventions, and events are postponed until the summer. It’s been great to see the open sharing of information by chefs and restaurateurs with each other and the transparency with customers about expanded health and safety measures.

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Food preparation and service is the second most common occupation in the United States. Waiting tables is the eighth most common. There are more than 12 million Americans working at over 600,000 food service and drinking establishments nationwide. As of 2016, Americans spent more than half of their food budget eating outside the home. Fueled by this growing trend, bars and restaurants played a significant role in the country’s recovery from the Great Recession. The number of establishments increased 17% between 2009 and 2018, making up over 75% of all growth in the leisure and hospitality sector during this time period. These “third places” are the life blood of many American towns, vital to our cultural fabric and employment base. This brief captures COVID-19’s rapid impact on the food and beverage industry. In the last week, we spoke with 13 servers (including bartenders and wait staff), managers, and restaurant owners in the Washington, D.C. metro area to understand how the impact is playing out in our own backyard. We asked them to share their experiences and perceptions of what has happened over the last three weeks and what forms of support they would find most helpful. This piece builds on a previous blog post about broader shifts in the retail landscape being accelerated by COVID-19. A forthcoming piece will examine the unemployment insurance (UI) safety net typically available for food and beverage workers and provide an early analysis of what the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act does and does not do for these workers.Above all, the U.S. needs to take stock of its safety net during this crisis and make sure it aligns with the value that our small businesses and service industry workers bring to the economy

“I don’t see a huge push by anyone to be a voice for people in the service industry,” one owner told us. “These are the hardest hit—the people that everybody takes for granted.” The future of the food and beverage industry is uncertain, but it is very clear that the people who work in it are suffering immensely right now, and require unprecedented reassurance and relief. “It has killed me to do all this,” one owner said after he described laying off almost his entire staff. “It made me cry. It’s making me cry again. You think you have everything in hand, and, then…It’s too hard to put it to reason. It’s just so weird. Who knows? So, I worry about everyone.”

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Usually, but as we started to do this, restaurants began to close again for dining, first in California, then in Kentucky. Here in Kentucky restaurants were ordered to operate at 25 percent dining-in capacity and bars were closed. So we had to switch back to relief kitchen mode in those two regions. We did not expect to have to do this again, but here we are

It’s a vicious cycle, when you’re closed for a few months, then you reopen and hire back everyone, and two weeks later you have to close again.

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