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Winter is coming and it's already presenting new eating places with a brand new problem

A worker wearing a protective mask cleans a table outside a pizza restaurant in San Francisco, California, United States on Monday, June 15, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A little over a year ago, Adam Rammel had problems finding workers. The owner of the local craft beer bar Brewfontaine in Bellefontaine, Ohio was preparing to open his new events and catering business, and the tight job market stood in the way of finding talent.

Fast forward to autumn, millions are unemployed and talent is no longer a struggle. Instead, Rammel's biggest challenge will be a winter in the Midwest that is unparalleled due to the pandemic.

Rammel turned away from running the function space and instead turned it into an upscale restaurant called The Syndicate. In the meantime, his bar will do without the outdoor restaurants that have kept him afloat for the past few months. In addition, Rammel is before 10 p.m. Last call curfew while serving drinks and limited seating capacity to meet social distancing needs.

"The past six months have been some of the biggest challenges that we will hopefully ever face," said Rammel. "We fight every day just to stay afloat, to survive. People now prefer to eat outside. We'll try to get creative. I've looked at [heated] igloos and everything else around this space to be able to use the winter. The winter is currently our greatest fear. "

New data from the National Restaurant Association shows how badly the industry has been hit by the pandemic. An estimated $ 165 billion in sales was lost from March through July, and more than 8 million workers were either on leave or laid off at the height of the outbreak. The industry advocacy group assumes that 15% of all places to eat and drink, around 100,000 establishments, are in no way open to business. It remains to be seen how many of these closures will become permanent.

"We are at a turning point in the industry. First, the seasons are changing, we are hobbling through the high season and we are about to begin the low season. We do this when the industry is still at its weakest point," said Sean Kennedy, executive Vice President of Public Affairs for the Association. "So far, the federal response has been to provide eight weeks of federal funding for a pandemic that has been bringing this industry to its knees for six months."

The group's survey of more than 3,500 members found that sales have fallen by about a third, and nearly 40% of operators say their restaurants are likely to be out of service in six months if economic conditions persist . When sales declined, 60% of respondents said they spent more on operating costs relative to sales.

"The average restaurant has 16 days of cash," said Kennedy. "It's just simple math that something has to be done."

Despite many job losses in the industry over the past few months, listed restaurant names have been on the rise as consumers choose digital ordering and contactless experiences. Domino & # 39; s, Papa John & # 39; s, Chipotle, McDonald & # 39; s, Dunkin & # 39; s, Wingstop and others have said that together they are looking for half a million workers as a business boom. The National Restaurant Association survey found that nearly 70% of operators added roadside takeout and about a third added third party delivery to help boost business while operations are restricted.

Small businesses outside of the restaurant industry are in dire straits waiting for Washington to hold another round of relief. Recent data from the National Federation of Independent Business shows that if economic conditions do not improve within the next six months, one in five businesses must say they will have to close. The advocacy survey found that 84% of respondents have used all of their paycheck protection loan, with the remainder likely to be not far behind. 47 percent of PPP borrowers believe that they will need additional help in the next 12 months, according to the survey of 562 members.

Rammel has used up his $ 160,000 PPP funding and his disaster loan from the Small Business Administration, saying a next wave of aid is vital.

"Mom and pop restaurants are the elixir of life and the character of our small towns," he said. "We need all the help we can get."

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