Winter cold kills last remaining option for many restaurants
The National Restaurant Association (NRA) recently said the restaurant industry has likely fallen into a double dip recession. In November, eating and drinking place sales were down 4 percent from October and were 19 percent below pre-coronavirus levels in January and February.
The deteriorating business condition was blamed on the end of the outdoor dining season in many parts of the country.
A separate NRA survey of restaurant operators taken from November 17 to 30 found:
- Fifty-two percent of full-service operators offered on-premises outdoor dining in a space such as a patio, deck or sidewalk, down from 74 percent in early September;
- Forty-six percent of limited-service operators offered outdoor dining, down from 60 percent in September;
- Eighty-three percent of full-service operators and 67 percent of limited-service operators expect their sales to decline from current levels over the next three months.
Billy Cole, the general manager of Little Dokebi, a Korean restaurant in Brooklyn, told USA Today, “What’s a heater gonna do when it’s 30 degrees out and you’re 50 percent exposed anyway?”
Sadiya Khan, an epidemiologist at Northwestern University’s Feiberg School of Medicine, told USA Today she worries “outdoor” structures are really turned into indoor facilities, with the addition of heating, carpeting and being closed off to the open air. Some cities require temporary outdoor structures to have open air sides, a challenge when cold.
Prof. Khan noted that the virus from a previous customer could remain in an outdoor restaurant structure after the diner has left. In New York City, tables and chairs had to be moved inside with the recent snowstorm, at nearly the same time as they were facing an indoor dining ban from the state. Changing governmental restrictions are also a source of frustration for restaurant and bar operators.
Speaking to CNN, chef and author Edward Lee Edward Lee expressed concerns that the higher operating expenses of outdoor dining and rising food costs along the sales shortfalls would lead to a loss of independent restaurant culture. He said, “We will become a nation of corporate chain restaurants that will look and taste the same in every city.”
- Restaurant sales fell for the second consecutive month – National Restaurant Association
- COVID-19 Restaurant Impact Survey – National Restaurant Association
- ‘What’s a heater gonna do when it’s 30 degrees’: Restaurants face bleak winter during COVID-19 – USA Today
- The restaurant apocalypse is here – CNN
- The Lee Initiative
- Restaurant Closings Top 110,000 With Industry in ‘Free Fall’ – Bloomberg
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you have any creative ideas for struggling restaurants trying to survive the winter of 2020-21? Do you feel the industry will bounce back quickly once the pandemic ends, or do you see a big change in the landscape coming?