Restaurants Scramble for Stability in the “Now Normal”
By Timothy G. Beeman II
The world has changed. Our livelihoods have changed. Our perceptions, our habits, our wants and possibly our dreams… they have all changed.
When the “Pandemic-Which-Must-Not-Be-Mentioned” first arrived in the US, restaurants started bracing for the worst. Well, at least most did. Within a week, starting with the biggest drinking holiday of the year, St. Patrick’s Day — once Governor Roy Cooper called for the ban of dine-in for bars and restaurants — life for bars, restaurants, bottle shops, grocery stores, patrons, has gone from “oh, we’ll all be alright…” to “holy $@#&!!!” in 2.6 seconds.
Restaurants that are not usually set up for take-out, curbside service or even delivery, are finding themselves shifting and adjusting to what I am calling the “Now Normal.” I am not fond of the term “new normal” because I honestly believe we will see the other side of the situation. Time, vigilance and compliance will determine the longevity of this “Now Normal.”
But I digress… Changes have been swift and for the most part, positive. Smaller, fast-casual and “to go” places were already set up for closing their dining areas. The “cost of doing business” model for them has always been less reliant on putting butts in seats. The larger, fine-dining, family-style restaurants with larger seating capacities are feeling the pinch a little more because their model does rely on in-house dining. Some of those larger restaurants, however, have been able to shift to a feasible model.
Some of the restaurants have turned to allowing their employees to make deliveries, but the establishment is urged to check with their insurance companies as to their liability coverage. Many of the restaurants who already offered delivery, only had to scale back in-house staff. One server job lost, however, is too much.
Delivery services such as Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates, ChowNow, UberEats, and Takeout Central are, undoubtedly, seeing an increase in their usage and deliveries.
Curbside service, with employees wearing gloves are handing out takeout orders so people don’t have to leave their vehicles. Curbside hasn’t seen this kind of popularity since the 80s most likely. Swipeby, a Winston-Salem-based app developed from Wake Forest Graduates, is starting to see its value rise, as well.
Grocery stores are struggling to keep stock on their shelves and the consumer is feeling the crunch as well. Hand sanitizers, paper towels, sanitizing wipes and inexplicably, toilet paper are flying off the shelves as if we were staring down the snowstorm of the century, not to mention the normal “snowstorm freakout foods” like bread, milk and eggs.
Speaking of hand sanitizers, Broad Branch Distillery & Old Nick Williams Distillery are taking its usually discarded ingredients and converting them into hand sanitizers and are giving them away. Broad Branch have been highlighted by local news outlets, the Salvation Army and even The New York Times.
I want to write here that everything is going to be okay. I want to write that it will be over soon. The sad fact is we will lose some of these restaurants. Not just temporarily, as many are shuttered until this situation passes, but permanently. In my research for the “definitive” list in Winston-Salem for my food blog and podcast, The Man Who Ate the Town, I have talked to a great number of business owners who tell me, they are really unsure of their business’ future and they are struggling with supply chains, logistics, loss of employees and their own health and wellness. I had someone write in and ask me “what does it look like out there?” I can only say “hopeful.”
If we do what we should to combat this horrible pandemic, we should get through it in a relatively short time. The reality is we are only going to get through it if we do what we’re instructed through the CDC and other experts. Stay home unless you must go out or if you are grabbing food from one of the establishments in your area that is still serving. Tip extra when you can. Wash your hands. Move food from its to go box and onto your own plate, nuke it a few seconds to reheat and decontaminate. Enjoy. Live. Love. Make the “Now Normal” a passing phase.