Among the hardest hit industries during the pandemic have been the restaurant and hospitality workers. In California alone, nearly one million people have lost their restaurant jobs. This includes wait and bussing staff, chefs, line cooks, hostesses and management. Stay at home orders around the country necessitated the closure of all restaurants, with a few reopening for take-out service only. The prolonged nature of the pandemic in the U.S. has forced the closure of thousands of eateries and far too many will never reopen.
And looking at the broader impact, Covid-19 has affected the food workers of the entertainment and sports industries. All of those people on the front lines at sporting venues and entertainment complexes who put food into the hands and mouths of event attendees, many of whom are seasonal and part-time workers, will not get those jobs back any time soon. With most large public gatherings for events completely canceled at least through the end of this year, these workers are being hit hard because the option to sell take-out doesn’t really exist in this realm, so they’ve all been furloughed or fired. Some will get those jobs back when events finally resume, but sadly the venues, teams and commissary management companies that contribute to the salaries of these workers can’t keep them on payroll rosters with no sales coming in.
Thankfully, many from the professional sports leagues have made massive individual and collective donations to funds that help support the people who feed the fans. But with no fans coming into the arenas and the layoffs being of longer duration that anyone could have predicted, the money received by these donations won’t last long enough.
The workers affected are from all walks of life. The folks working the counters at the stadium, and those in the stands, are as diverse as any industry. Some pursue those jobs for the love of the game (whatever sport that is featured in that venue), or the music and performances exhibited there. And some take these jobs because it is the only work they can get.
In some communities special arrangements have been made to facilitate outdoor dining. But far too many eateries don’t have the luxury of sidewalk or frontage space, parking space-eating “parklets,” roomy parking lots or closed streets where tables can be set up and restaurant operators can bring back some of their wait and kitchen staff to serve customers again. Some high-end restaurants are preparing meals to go but only doing it a couple of days each week requiring the offering of only a limited menu and advanced ordering from patrons.
And the economic contagion gets broader as you look deeper. With restaurants floundering, less food is being ordered from distributors. Less food being ordered means that the farmers and food suppliers are selling less and also have to lay off workers because their goods aren’t being sold in the same quantities as a few months ago. Supply chains are affected because farm workers, food processing employees, truck drivers and food distributors aren’t immune to the virus, so there are fewer people to do the work of getting our food from the fields to our homes.
In communities that have reopened, some folks are flocking to restaurants, while others remain reticent about being out in public holding on to reasonable concerns about further virus spread. Of course we hope that in these communities infection numbers decrease and stay very low, so customers can start to comfortably return.
At this moment in time, many communities are not that lucky. Reopening is a ways off. The coronavirus continues to spread in waves and spikes and infection numbers continue to be too high to comfortably encourage people to congregate in public and outside their social bubbles.
So what can we do to help?
Start by shopping locally as much as possible. National food chain stores are great because of their ubiquitous presence and relatively low prices. But the smaller stores often have more direct access to food suppliers that work directly with regional farms keeping more locals working, and keeping more of your tax dollars in your communities.
The other thing you might want to do is give support – either financial or through volunteering – to one or more of the many organizations that are trying to help food and restaurant workers by providing meals and support services in this crazy time. Choose from this brief, non-exhaustive list below or make a donation to your local food bank. Here is where we can all make a difference.
Big Table https://big-table.com/
California Food Policy Advocates https://cfpa.net/
Children of Restaurant Employees https://coregives.org/
City Harvest https://www.cityharvest.org/
Feeding America https://www.feedingamerica.org/
Food Chain Workers Alliance http://foodchainworkers.org/
Meals On Wheels https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/
No Kid Hungry https://secure.nokidhungry.org/
Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United https://rocunited.org/
Restaurant Workers Community Foundation https://www.restaurantworkerscf.org/
Second Harvest Food Bank https://www.shfb.org/
United States Bartenders Guild https://www.usbg.org/home
World Central Kitchen https://wck.org/
Slowly, in some areas of the country, indoor dining has begun to resume, but with restrictions dramatically lowering occupancy rates, necessitating reduced staff, operating hours and fewer menu options. Hopefully this trend will continue, but infection rates must stay low before communities soften restrictions, and populations feel comfortable enough to eat inside restaurants again. It will take a long while for the industry to return to its former self, but every step forward is a positive one. Let’s all continue to maintain appropriate social distance from strangers, wear face coverings when in public, and being vigilant about cleanliness. These actions will lower the infection rates and enable venues to move forward, allowing more people through their doors to enjoy eating out once more.