What the Restaurant Industry Needs to Re-Open
Rebuilding the industry after the COVID-19 crisisJBF Editors
April 30, 2020
In the midst of sweeping shelter-in place orders, quarantines, and restaurant/bar closures due to COVID-19, a familiar cooking competition made its return to television: Top Chef. For its second all-stars season, the series brought together 15 returning “cheftestants” to battle for the coveted title. On television, these chefs spend week after week tackling multiple challenges, but at home they are facing the harsh impact of the pandemic on their restaurants, staff, and livelihoods. One day, restrictions will lift, businesses will re-open, and society will begin its new normal, restaurants included. In the final part of this series, we asked this panel of chefs what it would take to get the restaurant industry back on its feet.
JBF: When restrictions begin to lift and restaurants and bars are allowed to resume business, what will the dining community need to get back on track?
Kevin Gillespie, Gunshow, Revival, Cold Beer, Gamechanger, and Ole Reliable, Atlanta: The first step is being patient. Not everything will be able to re-open on the exact same day. We have five restaurants and we will have to take the time to open as if they have never opened before. If you make a reservation, please come. People are notorious for making reservations and sorting it out last minute. Small operations/newer restaurants will not be able to handle the cancellations given all they have gone through already.
Jennifer Carroll, Carroll Couture Cuisine, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.: We are going to need clear and realistic operating guidelines from our government, along with the trust, confidence, and willingness of both our guests and employees to return. All that is on top of getting loan forgiveness, rent abatement, and tax relief.
Gregory Gourdet, Departure, Portland, OR: One thing we need before we can even talk about re-opening our doors is a rent freeze so we can actually keep our spaces [in order] to re-open. We are all going to need a lot of government assistance to start everything back up again. We have to continue to be vocal to our leaders until we get it.
Lisa Fernandes, Sweet Chili, Brooklyn, NY: Restaurants operate on very tight budgets. We typically do not have a large cash reserve. Hopefully a large number of restaurants will be able to survive this and come out on the other side stronger than ever. I do think that when this is all over, New York City residents will be running out to their local restaurants for meals because, let's face it, we all have tiny kitchens and will be sick of cooking for ourselves.
Brian Malarkey, Herb & Wood and Animae, San Diego: We’ll be asking our diners to trust us to give you a safe experience, to feed you, to provide that safe, comforting space that you loved before all this happened. Come back and book your parties, book your celebrations, be here for us. Help ensure we can stay open and help us usher in the new era of dining out, whatever that may look like.
Eric Adjepong, Pinch & Plate, Washington, D.C.: As chefs, we pride ourselves on providing service to others. The best way we can get back on our feet is picking back up where we left off—being there for you during your graduation parties, birthdays, and any other celebratory events. I'm most looking forward to being hospitable again.
Nini Nguyen, NYC: I urge everyone to make a list of their favorite restaurants, and when this is over, check up on them. Don't forget the places you love. Let them know that if they decide to open, you are there for them.
Joe Sasto, Los Angeles: It's important to note that we are not asking for a bail-out; a bail-out is for an industry that made poor business choices and needs help. We were mandated to close for the good of the community, and now we [will] need help re-opening, rehiring, and taking care of our employees. Other than everything we are asking for from the government—regarding the stimulus package, rent abatement, and economic support—we will need the community more than ever.
Read part one and two of the series.
The James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund provides critical financial assistance to small, independent restaurants that have been impacted by COVID-19. Click here to learn more and to donate.
Top Chef airs Thursdays at 10pm EST/9pm central on Bravo.