I’ve sat in your booths and at your bars, celebrating new jobs, toasting new friends, and mourning lost relationships. I’ve popped in for a quick bite or lingered for hours. I’ve requested favorite waiters, ordered way too much, and taken far too many food photos.
I’ve also worked in your kitchens. I’ve opened up for Sunday brunch after a Saturday close, mopped your floors, cleaned your toilets. I’ve poured wine and mixed cocktails, helped elderly diners across your doorsteps, cooked family meals for your staff.
For the better part of a decade my life has been inextricably intertwined with yours, and when you hurt, I hurt.
I know that takeout isn’t enough. I know that your heart breaks when you have to cut shifts or let staff go. Restaurants are families; having to say good-bye to a family member is soul-crushing. I know that for thousands and thousands of you who own your own restaurants this is a sentence far worse than death; this means sitting there while this living being that you nurtured and raised struggles to breathe and you can barely keep up with the CPR.
I feel deeply your pain and frustration and anguish. I am crying with you, screaming with you, fighting with you.
I love you with all of my heart and I know that I will once again take up my spot at the corner of the bar or that booth by the window. I’ll show up alone or with friends, but either way will always order a little bit of everything and tip well. I’ll bring stories to share, some beer for the kitchen, and I promise I’ll wait for good lighting before taking more food photos.
To all the restaurants I’ve loved, stay strong, stay safe, and keep fighting.
So what can you do to save your favorite restaurants? The honest, hard truth is that buying gift certificates and ordering takeout will not be enough. Even in the best of times the vast majority of independent restaurants run on razor-thin margins; a week of slow sales could mean the difference between making payroll or closing up shop. Weeks on end of complete shutdown will result in the decimation of this country’s restaurant industry. Only corporate chains and those with deep-pocketed financial backers will be able to re-open. Drastic, across-the-board measures are needed and they are needed now.
First, just because ordering takeout is only a band-aid on an arterial bleed doesn’t mean you should stop. At the very least it provides a small stream of income at a critical moment, and it shows your local restaurants that you care and that you’re thinking of them.
Next, contact your state and federal officials and representatives. State senators, your governor, your insurance commissioner, your elected officials in Washington DC. Demand legislation to force insurance companies to recognize loss claims from this pandemic (many plans don’t), emphasize the need for low or no interest small business loans, and call for action to include 1099-workers and the self-employed in unemployment payments.
Lastly, reach out to your friends and family. Your network can be powerful, share the stories of your favorite restaurants and how they are hurting. Ask others to stand alongside you and fight. Make plans for group outings to your neighborhood pub when all this passes. Set aside some of that money you’re saving on gas and other expenses during the lockdown for future dinners out.
The restaurant industry nationwide employs tens of millions of American workers all the way from the start of the supply chain with farmers and farmworkers, through delivery drivers and suppliers, all the way to the men and women who cook and serve your food. We as a nation cannot afford to lose our restaurants. Cuisine defines who we are as a people, and America’s diverse and adventurous restaurant scene is a reflection of us as a society.
We are all in this together, as go our restaurants so goes America.