People work in the restaurant industry because they love it. That’s not a universal truth, but it accounts for most of us. We love restaurants, taking care of people, feeding people. We love that you can recognize a restaurateur by the way they insist on feeding you at every meeting, and the way that restaurant people are resilient.
COVID-19 created a paradox for the restaurant industry — the very act of taking care of people, feeding people put them at risk. And it put the lives of everyone working in the restaurant on the line. For many restaurateurs and chefs, the risk was simply too high. They closed their doors, waiting until it’s safe to reopen. For others, creativity was king, as they reconfigured their dining rooms to safely handle takeout, feed the frontlines, or supply groceries to their neighborhoods (where else were people going to get flour?). And a lot fell in the middle— shifting and adjusting as we all learned together that this wasn’t going to be over in just a few weeks.
And now, as our cities slowly allow the restaurant industry to reopen with a patchwork of rules and regulations, our restaurants are pivoting again, trying to find their footing in what feels like a sea of quicksand. As with the closing, restaurant people face the reopening with mixed emotions. There is joy in getting back in the kitchen, feeding our communities again and getting back to “normal” but layered with anxiety over safety. Restaurants and guests are negotiating a new etiquette around masks, distancing and new styles of service; and doing it all without the friendly smiles that smooth awkward conversations.
Against this background of uncertainty, we know one thing. Restaurants will survive. Not all of them—we’ll lose some of the places we love, restaurants where we’ve celebrated and mourned, tables at which we’ve had amazing meals and conversations. But restaurants are foundational. They are essential to our communities, our neighborhoods, and our relationships. Even as they move outside, convert to quick-service or takeout or barbecue, they will be there for us.
And we’ll be here for them. Navigating the back-to-basics marketing that will bring customers through their doors or onto their websites (because takeout isn’t going anywhere for awhile). Figuring out the single-use menus, the silverware sleeves and the cool branded masks that will be part of the restaurant industry for awhile. Designing labels for those ugly bottles of hand sanitizer on every surface, and keeping websites and social media filled with the latest information (not to mention mouth-watering photos). It’ll be awhile before we even figure out what the “new normal” is, but we’re here, finding solid footing on which to rebuild together.