Restaurants Will Be Heavily Impacted By Coronavirus Closures. Many Won't Recover
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all restaurants and bars to close to dine-in patrons starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday in an effort to halt the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Kristen Wile, editor and founder of Unpretentious Palate -- which covers Charlotte’s food and drink scene -- says many restaurants have already been hit hard with a decline in business.
She talked to WFAE’s Gwendolyn Glenn about how business owners and employees are dealing with the fallout.
Kristen Wile: A lot of restaurants are very, very concerned. They're trying to pivot to take-out, a lot are doing curbside deliveries. You don't even have to get out of your car. We've been polling restaurant owners and employees and things are not looking good for them.
Gwendolyn Glenn: I was going to ask you that prior to the governor's order. How was business at restaurants and bars? Were people still going?
Wile: No. Friday night seemed to be, you know, pretty normal with a slight slowdown. But a lot of the restaurant owners I spoke to said it was kind of similar to what they would expect around CMS’s spring break, anyway. And then Saturday night was OK. And then Sunday night was a huge drop-off.
Glenn: What about the lunch crowd?
Wile: As companies in uptown have started working from home, those restaurants have seen a huge decline -- more so than the neighborhood restaurants.
Glenn: And what’s this going to mean in terms of their survival?
Wile: So we've been asking that question and a lot of owners are saying that they cannot last if this is a prolonged closure and slow-down for them. Some owners are saying that even two weeks might put them at risk of closing. Others are saying they can last two months, but even two months really isn't a long time.
And so a lot of them are hoping that the government will do some immediate relief on making sure that if they fall behind on their rent, they don't get penalized for that. You know, payroll tax relief, a lot of different measures the government can do now. But even when they reopen, restaurant margins are so small that for someone to have to make up back-pay, rent costs going back a couple of months, it's going to be a really steep hill for them to climb.
Glenn: What about their employees? Are they able to still pay them or are they going through unemployment? What's happening there?
Wile: A lot of the employees are being let go and some restaurants are trying to use their front-of-house employees, their servers, for example, as delivery people and get them some income that way. But for the most part, yes, they're hoping that they can get expedited unemployment because so many of them have been laid off so unexpectedly and really don't have any other source of income.
Glenn: And just give us an idea of how large a number of people are we talking about here? Who could be affected, who are being affected?
Wile: So according to the NCRLA, which is the group that represents North Carolina service industry people, 13% of the state's population is going to be impacted by this as part of the service industry. So it's a very big number.
Glenn: I'm sure you have new restaurants, too, that just opened. Who's being hit the hardest?
Wile: I think uptown restaurants are going to be hit the hardest because they have the highest rent and they started seeing the effects of this the earliest. But also people who are just opening a restaurant or were planning to open a restaurant. I know down near Fort Mill, John and Amy Fortes, they just opened a new restaurant there, the owners of Flipside Cafe and the Flipside restaurant.
And they spent a lot of money renovating their space, getting this new restaurant open and hiring new staff. And business is basically at a standstill. And I've been asking restaurant owners what percentage of restaurants you think will make it through this. And the average, they think 50% will survive.
Glenn: And with that kind of prediction, that only 50% might make it, is there some kind of fund out there or something to help restaurants in the meantime, to help employees of these establishments? Has anything been established or is anything being asked for from, say, for instance, the Small Business Administration, or is there a GoFundMe out there?
Wile: So the U.S. Bartenders Guild is doing a lot of fundraising to help people on the beverage side of things. But in terms of restaurant employees, I really haven't seen much. And I think part of it is just there's nobody to spearhead it. And it's been interesting. I've been seeing a lot of activation in the food community around making sure students at CMS have been fed.
But a lot less about making sure that the people within this food and beverage industry are fed. So if people are looking to support restaurants, one recommendation is just to buy gift cards to ensure that there's still some cash flow coming in these places. We have a running list of restaurants that are offering curbside service on our site if you want to look at that.
Glenn: Well, thanks for talking with us.
Wile: Of course. Thank you so much.
Glenn: That’s Kristen Wile, editor and founder of Unpretentious Palate.