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Restaurants Must Have More Information to Re-Open

Katherine Miller

May 08, 2020

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Around the country, governors and public officials are issuing health and safety guidelines to prod local businesses to open back up. There are reasons for this urgency—the latest jobs report shows that 20 million Americans are now unemployed, the largest number since the Great Depression, including 5.5 million restaurant, bar, and food service workers.

According to our most recent James Beard Foundation member survey, while many restaurants are open for take-out and delivery orders (59%), 40% of them remain closed to the public.  

One percent of respondents report being permanently closed. That could mean as many as 5,000 small and independent restaurants that may never re-open in their communities, and tens of thousands of jobs that could be permanently lost.

Reopening restaurants will not be as swift and easy as government officials would like it to be.

The majority of restaurants owners (90%) believe they’ll need up to four weeks to re-open and their top concerns are tied to restaurant capacity and the need for new and additional financial resources to cover costs to restock pantries, rehire workers, and buy personal protective equipment (PPE).

Re-Opening Will Take Time and Money

In addition to needing up to four weeks to reopen, the majority of survey respondents (53%) cited a need for between $10,000 and $50,000 beyond what they are currently spending to re-open their restaurants.

The top five expenses are:

  • purchasing food and beverage to re-open
  • paying past vendor invoices
  • buying personal protective equipment
  • paying past rent or mortgage costs
  • paying future rent or mortgage costs
Capacity Needs to Be at 50% or More

According to our survey, restaurant owners need to have at least 50% capacity options available before re-opening. They also need more information about how to redesign their spaces and create policies around social distancing. Most states are limiting restaurants to less than 30% capacity and there are inconsistent guidelines—this further complicates the re-opening calculus for restaurants.

Overwhelming Concern for Health and Safety of Employees and Customers

Nine out of 10 owners who are considering re-opening listed health and safety of staff and customers as their number one concern. Health and safety concerns also included uncertainty around the ability to consistently access special equipment including masks, thermometers, and hand sanitizer (6 out of ten owners).

Need Help Marketing to Customers

While managing social distancing and health and safety requirements is of greatest concern, owners are also considering how they market the re-opening of restaurants and bars to customers (8 out of 10 owners). They are also looking at how those communications convey health and safety considerations (6 out of 10 owners).

This concern around perceived safety is reinforced by a recent CivicScience study that found that 41% of people would wait between one and five months before going to a restaurant post-lockdown. Thirty-nine percent said under a month, while 20% said they would wait longer than six months.

Restaurants Need Additional Relief and Information

According to federal data, restaurants received less than 9% of the total funding available through the flawed Paycheck Protection Program. The Independent Restaurant Coalition— founded with support from the James Beard Foundation —and the thousands of restaurant owners it represents, are advocating for additional financial relief in the form of a $120 billion restaurant stabilization fund. Several coordinated efforts are also underway to try to improve the terms of the PPP for all small business owners.

Beyond financial relief, those who are considering re-opening need additional information and guidance on the best ways to support the health and safety of their customers and staff, including information on legal liability if someone contracts COVID-19 in their restaurant.

About the Survey

Since March 13, 2020 the James Beard Foundation has surveyed its members using Survey Monkey. The reopening survey had 1010 respondents between May 2 and May 8, 2020. Ninety-eight percent of respondents are owner, operators, and/or managers.

Learn more about our efforts to help independent restaurants #openforgood.

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Katherine Miller is vice president of Impact at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @Table81.