A Frantic Few Days for Restaurants Is Only the Beginning

Mar 16, 2020 · 165 comments
Elizabeth (New York, NY)
How is it that it's okay for government to give huge sums of money to bail out giant corporations like airlines and banks and investment companies, but when it comes to small businesses like restaurants it's a discussion about loans? This mostly Mom-and-Pop shop industry employs workers on all levels, involves a network of small-business vendors and fuels & enriches our neighborhoods and communities. I'd much prefer my tax dollars to bail out these business owners than given freely to investment firm or airlines. THOSE should be required to pay back loans - not essential small businesses like restaurants.
JC (Pennsylvania)
Dining out is not essential. Neither is take out or delivery of individual meals. People need to learn better priorities and understand that having someone else cook and serve your meal is a luxury not a basic need. Buy groceries and prepare your own meals or at least purchase meals to re-heat in bulk vs eating out every individual meal. This virus epidemic is bad, however, it should teach several lessons - the importance of personal space/not overcrowding, better sanitation, and learning not to rely on restaurants for every meal.
Susan Portis (Corpus Christi)
I have emailed both senators and my congressman asking them to prioritize individuals and small businesses first. That being said big businesses have employees too who will become laid off or have reduced work. Rather than not aiding big business rather the aid must be very strictly structured so it must be repaid and stock buy backs and executive bonuses prohibited during payback time.
Bernice (NYC)
As noted, restaurants aren't just the cooks and servers but the farmers, florists and other suppliers. Not to mention they are gathering places (the problem right now), models of inspiration for eating, decor and communal activity. They are an important part of our lives. I love to cook and do it more than I go out but the lure of the great restaurants- both the perfect neighborhood haunt and the sumptuous Michelin star are parts of culture and society we cannot do without. It does not seem to me it is an option to let them all fail. We bailed out banks and auto companies- how can we not bail out places that feed us, allow us to talk and laugh, and where memories are made? Help them!
Myles (Rochester)
Finishing this article was the first time I've cried since the start of the crisis. To see someone like Pete Wells, whose characteristically effusive restaurant reviews (positive or otherwise) reek only of love for food and people who make, reduced to a quiet plea for help... There will be long, hopeless days ahead.
Tuvw Xyz (Evanston, Illinois)
From the many comments, I ask myself whether the readers see the restaurants as serving the public or vice versa? If eating in restaurants went out of fashion, the restaurateurs, as good businessmen, would find other fields of remunerative activity. Then we should be back to the time of eateries only for the lower classes, while the rich and aristocracy dined at home.
MIMA (heartsny)
One of my daughters closed her cafe doors to the public yesterday. The virus.won. Her cafe isn’t just the usual, sit down at the table, order, and so on. Hers is a cat cafe. One half the cafe food, wine, fine desserts. The other half, adoptable cats in a fun area that begs come play with us, pet us, hey, apply to take us home to a furrever home as they say. My girl grew up in a small town, getting her Fluffy at the age of five, a farm cat, who ultimately lived to be seventeen! Leaving home after high school graduation, she moved to our big city state capital and worked frontline desk in one of our state’s then greatest hotels. Then, she became a flight attendant, worked to attain a paralegal degree, too, and married a pilot. Little did they know that the airlines would take a hit in the recession and the pilot was laid off for twenty months - with now two kids. But alas, off to work went my girl, in the air again, doling hospitality at what, thousands of feet? When she opened a cat cafe, a dream come true, the place turned a plain old Milwaukee brick building into a feline palace. So lovely, all that hard work but more than that - in one year and a half - she helped cats, stray cats, who came to the cafe from her animal shelter partner to find their furrever home. The cafe adopted out 460 cats to homes in 1 1/2 years! I hate they have to close their doors. My little girl, with a love for innocent felines, broken hearted after all that work and sensitivity.
Paul Shindler (NH)
Along with being a huge employment sector, restaurants and bars are a crucial part of the fabric of our lives. I consider having close proximity to them a quality of life issue. I could never live in the middle of nowhere. They contribute far more than churches to communities. My favorite local Mexican place is about as close as I get to church. Nice to see Pete Wells going to bat for this vital industry.
Vanessa Hall (Millersburg, MO)
It would be nice if the bailed-out banks would return the favor and bail out restaurants on their own. I'd rather my tax dollars went to bail out a restaurant than a bank any day. I'm guessing the banks are more interested in the profits of foreclosure, but maybe I'm wrong.
Robert Watsong(f;drf,::?3, Dxtc Xcxd Dfsf Dftf F Zedxdsxxfxxrrdxyyxxxdxd Cdxxsrfx,,;,;( Dcdfswwdxfxd (New York)
Take a moment and think about how servers handle tableware and linen napkins. Glasses are picked up at the rim where saliva adheres, linen napkins where diners have wiped their mouth and - god forbid - cleared their noses are re-folded. The list of unsanitary practices goes on. Don’t get me wrong: As a New Yorker, I already mourn the closure and long-term effects this pandemic will place on restaurants and its employees. However, I hope that, like the rest of the world, lessons can be learned about sanitary practices. Be well.
Yael Feinerman (NY)
NYS needs to cancel sales tax payments this month. I work with many restaurants and my biggest scramble right now is figuring out how to keep enough cash in house to cover payroll for as long as possible. NYS: help the restaurant community now!
Jim (CT)
Honestly. Learn how to cook in your own home and see what a joy and arduous task it can be. Then, next time you visit one of these outrageously priced boutique restaurants in the city, consider how much of that bill actually ends up in the employees' hands. Then feel sorry for them for never earning a living wage and realize how lucky you were for taking advantage of this system.
Dave (Brooklyn)
Clearly you have never worked in a restaurant, nor do you know a single person who works in one. Home cooking is a beautiful thing, but restaurants are our cultural institutions. restaurant workers in this city are such a tight community of wonder people. and they need all the support they can get now.
nancy harmon jenkins (Camden, Maine)
Clearly many respondents define "restaurant" as a glittery no-expenses-barred place where high-rollers dine on caviar for breakfast. In my Maine community, on the other hand, "restaurant" covers everything from chowder houses & oyster bars to small exquisite nooks with high-priced menus to corner coffee shops and even lunch wagons, and people of all ages and income levels rely on them for some of their food at least some days in a week. As Pete W. points out, the margins are paper thin. The daily take is what pays the daily salaries. In the current crisis, most of these places will simply disappear and our communities (my community) will suffer a tremendous loss. Far more than food, what will go missing are the social connections provided--and of course the burden on the community of caring for a great number of unemployed and possibly homeless people left behind.
Andy (New Jersey)
@nancy harmon jenkins YES, this is exactly right, precisely what needs to be said - and considered. Perfectly and beautifully put. And though the august writer of this post doesn't tout her own daughter's contributions to the community at large, chefs such as Sara Jenkins have deepened, expanded and enriched the food chain by employing and patronizing farmers and artisans, training aspiring chefs, connecting artists of all stripes to the public, and fueling economies both local and regional. It's about employment, yes, but also education, enlightenment and edification extending well beyond the plate.
Tuvw Xyz (Evanston, Illinois)
@ nancy harmon jenkins Camden, Maine Your comment touches on restaurant history. Until late-19th (?) century, restaurants were public eateries for the plebeians, while the rich and aristocracy ate and entertained at meals at home. I would enlarge on your "high-rollers dine on caviar for breakfast" that you might have meant black caviar. In my area, red caviar (salmon roe) retails at an average price of $10 for 100 grams or 3.5 ounces. But black caviar's price is 17 [!] times higher.
The financial fallout is very bad indeed but let us focus on what we need to do to stop transmission right now. It is best not to go anywhere unless it is essential. Limiting all contact with other people is prudent right now and critical. People are infected and they do not know it yet. That is why it is important to stop going out right now. Lets all work together to spread this message because a lot of people are not getting the message.
JC (Pennsylvania)
@GB Very true. Good post.
New Yorker (NYC)
There is just talk about bailouts, but what about talk of these landlords giving a reprieve on collecting the insane storefront rents they do? Shouldn’t they help and bear some of the burden of these forced closures and not just the lessee? So the restaurant owners have to take out additional loans or taxpayer bailout will go to pay the rent of a closed storefront to pad the pockets of the already wealthy building owners? Of course some may have loans on their buildings, but I assume most building owners have plenty to lean on and do not operate on such thin margins and are the wealthy elite or corporations who surely can play a part in helping these businesses by suspending their rents? Wouldn’t it be in their best interest considering how long a vacancy may take to fill? Rent prices show that NYC landlords are the epitome of greed. Storefront rents here can be just astronomical. In such a crisis everyone including the landlords/ building owners should do their part and bear the burden. Quoted from the NY Times reporting on Macron re: France’s lockdown (3/16): “Rent and utility bills owned by small companies would also be suspended to help them weather the economic storm.” “No French company, whatever its size, will be exposed to the risk of collapse.” We should take a page from their book.
Molly Bloom (Tri-State)
Reading this brought to mind all the NYC restaurants that stayed open after September 11 and fed our first responders, gratis. An example: Nino’s, on Canal Street fed thousands of workers 24/7 for free.
Simon de Swaan (Eagle, CO)
As a nation, we have become accustomed to servers being paid below livable wages and expected them to make up the difference in tips. The majority of servers, though, live paycheck to paycheck and any unemployment they might be able to collect during this period will be a pittance in comparison to what they were barely making, to begin with. Diners set such high expectations of restaurateurs but frequently take it out on the service staff. Great food. Great service. But we don't want to pay for it. The cooks who work in the kitchen, work longer hours and make less money than the waiters in hopes of someday becoming the Celebrity Chef that TV glorified. In the meantime, that cook is often working two, and possibly three jobs to afford to live or living with three roommates to be able to pay rent and other living expenses. Whenever the dust settles and we can begin to see the end of this nightmare we need to have a national dialogue about paying a liveable wage and giving restaurant owners the latitude to charge a price that allows them to pay their staff and also eke out a profit. Sadly, when restaurants re-open, there will be fewer of them on our horizon. The difference between profitability and insolvency was too close for too many. This time period that we ask restauranteurs, servers, and cooks to sacrifice for the safety of our country, needs to be repaid. It’s right thing to do.
Mary (Arlington VA)
Are we ready to bail out the small businesses that run on slim margins with small cash reserves? Heck, yeah. Bail out the restaurant empires? Or the large companies that have been bailed out before, but spent their government bailouts and tax cut savings on stock buybacks instead of boosting their capital reserves and cutting their debt? Oh, no!! Individuals are told they should keep a liquid cash reserve of 6 to 12 months of living expenses, and if they don't...they are told,"that's too bad, you should have been more responsible" when calamity strikes. Why shouldn't big businesses be expected to act as responsibly as the little guy?
Matthew (NJ)
Don't worry, Pete, they'll bail out all the national chains. And they will take over the vast majority of empty locations in the city. Your future very likely will be comparing Ruby Tuesdays vs. Cracker Barrels.
In NYC, particularly Manhattan, this will permanently destroy the small neighborhood stores and restaurants that have managed to survive the city’s hyper-gentrification/luxurification. Chain stores and big real estate will replace them, cementing NYC’s transformation into a corporate mall.
Andy (Charlotte)
@SLM If this is what landlords in Manhattan want to see, then it’s going to happen anyway, with or without Covid 19.
Shiv (New York)
I’m surprised by the number of commenters who are unsympathetic to the plight of restaurant owners and employees and/or gloating that “the rich” won’t have access to fancy restaurants. The restaurant business is tough in so many ways. It’s physically demanding and people who work in it have long hours and little time off. It’s a risky business as well, with thin margins and a short shelf life for most. It’s also a business that provides an avenue to success to people who might otherwise have limited opportunities. I think government should do everything possible to help restaurants survive, particularly because the stress the industry is experiencing is a direct result of government actions. But even without the moral imperative, causing widespread unemployment among a large group of our citizens is bad policy. I for one am totally supportive of substantial cash grants and targeted help for the industry.
Matthew (NJ)
@Shiv Agreed, worked in them. But what we are now witnessing is wholesale shutdown nationwide probably for months. As a WORLD we are going to come out of this in tatters. It will be a miracle that we do so peacefully. The list of THINGS that are going to need massive assistance to breathe life back into is going to be endless. Triage-ing this will be a huge puzzle. And with Republicans in control they will see every aspect of it as an opportunity for profiteering and retribution. So expect the very worst. Restaurants, and restaurants in NYC will be near the bottom of the list. So, they gone.
Fred (Montgomery County, PA)
restaurants are for the rich
Étienne Guérin (Astoria, NY)
@Fred That is a tad short-sighted of a comment, Fred. Please think about all the workers from the industry. Do you really think they can afford to dine out where they work? Not even when they run at full tilt... So this article is mostly about them.
Dave (Brooklyn)
Restaurants are for the people who work in them, not the rich.
@Fred and jobs for the poor.
TrumpTheStain (the Abomination) (Boston)
Send all letters of discontent to the Oval,office, the Senate, Congress
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
@TrumpTheStain (the Abomination) : why? because they have magical super powers and can prevent or cure pandemics with a snap of their fingers? What part of "this is world wide" do you not get?
s.chubin (Geneva)
@Concerned Citizen focus on what you can do:impeach or remove Trump.
swe (ny,ny)
The government should bail out the restaurant industry, which takes beating every time the market does! But Jamie Dimon still takes home hi millions and the auto industry and the huge farms and airlines get bailed out or/and the banks.....let´s save the restaurants and the people who own them and work in them for a change!
george eliot (annapolis, md)
Does this mean my $100 "power breakfast" won't be available? Heavens to betsy, what's a New York oligarch to do?
George (New York)
@george eliot yes, restaurants only exist in New York
Matthew (NJ)
@George Wow, you're right! I googled "top 10 restos in Annapolis", it seems they do eat out there too! And they have these things called "crab cakes". Sounds fancy.
Steve (Seattle)
Trump and his Republican cronies can roll back the tax cut they gave their rich friends and instead provide all of these people forced-out of work to stay home a weekly stipend.
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
@Steve : while I disagreed with the tax cut....it is about 1.7 billion a year. That's a lot, but not enough to support 330 million people for a year, at a living wage. The tax cut is often wrongly described as $1.75 TRILLION -- but that's projected out over 10 years and surely in 10 years, SOME Democrat will run and win, and be younger than 78 and that Democratic Administration will undo the cuts -- right?
s.chubin (Geneva)
@Concerned Citizen how does this deal with the problem today?
Keitr (USA)
This article and another I just read arguing the businesses should be absolved of their obligation to pay into their employees social security fund, reflects a sad fact that the business community has managed to solicit more press coverage of their troubles than stories on people, sickened, injured, impoverished or killed by the virus. So we see countless stories on how taxpayers need to bail out some business, often accompanied by how workers will suffer if the the business owner isn't bailed out. This is what happens in the business world folks, businesses fail, especially businesses with questionable business models, such as providing meals for people so wealthy they can afford to pay a bevy of temporary servants to prepare and serve their meals rather than prepare them themselves. Most Americans have to prepare their own meals and themselves prepare their plate, and they have survived. And no one is going to starve because they can't get a table. So no, let's not bail out restaurant owners and make sure their employees can get unemployment insurance to tie them over.
Tammi (Maine)
Sure, businesses fail in the natural course of things. That's quite a bit different than an ENTIRE INDUTRY collapsing.
Silly (Rabbit)
I am not sure any politician or journalist can truly grasp how many people they will have killed with this complete shutdown. Look for significantly more deaths of despair amongst younger demographics in the coming decade.
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
@Silly : so it is better to work through a pandemic -- serving food, covered in bacteria and viruses and saliva -- to thousands of people, some of whom surely are contagious with COVID 19 (*which can be asymptomatic at first)????? And they make fun of anti-vaxxers....yeesh. This is a logical smart step to close schools and restaurants and stores and malls. It is the only way to stop the pandemic.
Tammi (Maine)
@Jen Did you seriously just say you hope for a spike in suicides among young people? Yikes.
John Doe (Johnstown)
Here in LA food trucks are all the rage and I can't image them being banned from city streets despite the large sidewalk crowds that gather around them. Where is this going to end? Maybe the run on TP wasn't that crazy.
“I always knew that when the end came, New Yorkers would watch it from a bar.” Wow. I love New York.
N. Cunningham (Canada)
The American restaurant business model is vicious anyway, especially for employees. .. let it die and recreate it more along the lines of moist other nations where wages are paid and tips are extra for service, not survival
Tom (Home)
I get why a restaurant critic posted this. But it's crazily narrow-minded. The idea that NY must devote billions to make sure that the restaurants in business *right now* are still in business after the virus is lunacy. Almost all mid-range and upscale places will fold. Fast food, Dominos, etc. will limp through. It's a shame, but attempting to stop it would just be shoveling cash into the Hudson.
s.chubin (Geneva)
@Tom as it was with the oh-so- deserving banks?
@Tom: And where do you live, may I ask?
J (Brooklyn)
Mr Wells alludes to it, but my question is: why did so many restaurants and bars ignore the 50% rule? Might be an interesting topic for next week's column. But who knows what world we'll be living in then
jbarnold (NYC)
@J One thing I heard from a restaurant owner is that they only asked to reduce 50% from *max* capacity, but the number of seats was often lower than that already, so there was not much to do.
Joshua (NYC 10023)
I’ve been trying to do my part by getting pickup food from our new neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant. Hopefully others can rally to prop them up until they can start accepting customers again. The last thing we need is for our ethnic enclaves to be replaced by a bank in a few months.
AutumnLeaf (Manhattan)
Since people are addicted to food, they will have to find something to eat. Because very few people can cook water without burning it, then most people will have to walk out of their safe spaces to go eat. Bars also provide libations, and a place to act stupid away from home, and people are addicted to that as well. Thus we can conclude that once McSorleys and O'Lunneys reopen, when the noodle shop downstairs had the lights on, when the corner bodega decides to sell food again, a lot of us will run right back into the arms of the libations, tastes and instant gratification that does not come with cooking and cleaning afterwards. For now I am making my family a nice rib roast, with malbec, small red potatoes, the works. Who know when we will have the chance to have that again at Wolfgans, but on the day we can, we will head over and spend our cash there. And so will a lot more folk than us.
Sterling (Brooklyn, NY)
People made fun of Andrew Yang and UBI. Seems like that would be a godsend right now.
Our Road to Hatred (nj)
Sacrificing small business for the ineptitude of the govt is irresponsible. If we believe in the free market then live life and let the market take care of All. We get sick we get sick. At least there’ll be no govt intervention if they won’t make us whole. The projected pain will not be worth the fix. This is not the first time irresponsible leaders have ruined lives.
Jonathan Katz (St. Louis)
We don't need restaurants. Close them permanently.
@Jonathan Katz: I might as well say we don't need St. Louis; close it permanently and make everyone move elsewhere.
Dudesworth (Colorado)
Let’s just put the wonder of food itself aside. Restaurants are one of the few places anyone aspiring in a creative field can still moonlight and make any kind of living. Video stores, record stores, Art House cinemas - kaput! Since 9/11, every successive disaster this country has been through has unfairly squashed the souls of the very people that make life worth living; the dreamers and the innovators. Life is much more than being a “consumer” or a drone for the tech/healthcare industries. For the last 20 years it’s been “move fast and break all the cool stuff.” I don’t hold much hope that a man that eats burnt steak with ketchup will be helping matters.
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
@Dudesworth : honestly all the problems liberals point out and all their rage, and what really matters is that Trump like well done steak and ketchup? Why on earth do you care what he eats?
@Concerned Citizen: Why do we care? Because it reflects Trump's complete lack of curiosity and taste. Anything complex is lost on him, whether it's an idea or a meal.
Ricardo (Austin)
Many are going to die, many industries will suffer, not just the restaurants. Make a complete list first
Michele (Maine)
"This is terrible" Thank you. I hear you. That may or may not be true. "it's the end of the restaurant business as we know it" Thank you. I hear you. That may or may not be true. The business is hand-to-mouth even in the best of times Thank you. I hear you. That may or may not be true. Scarcity It is so fear inducing, panic inducing This isn't the worst crisis we've seen, it isn't the last We can make a choice that the sky is falling and that nothing is ever going to be the same OR we can know that the same is no guarantee anyway. The restauranteurs with a flexible mind and an eye towards delivering customer value are going to do fine. How do I know this? They are my clients and I coach them on creating abundance in their life even when it is so much easier to think everything is falling apart. If you think everything is going to fall apart, it probably will. If you concentrate on delivering customer value, you will. It's a choice every business owner gets to make...every day, coronavirus or no.
@Michele: Maybe that's how it works in Maine; not so much in NYC.
Tammi (Maine)
@L It's not even how it works in Maine, but if she's getting people to pay her for advice about defeating economic ruin in a pandemic by having a positive mindset, good for her, I guess.
Jeff (Bay Area, CA)
We decry the collapse of the airlines, the small business owners, the movie theaters.... How about the destitution of the ordinary citizenry? Maybe, for once, we should be speaking of how the men and women of this country will be bailed out by their government, instead of how their tax dollars will be used to prop up businesses, both big and small.
JohnFred (Raleigh)
@Jeff But businesses are what employ people.
sjs (Bridgeport, CT)
We just went to takeout only here in Bridgeport. I just ordered a pizza and I'll go pick it up in 20 minutes.
Geoff (New York)
Please cover how hotels are affected as well. Hotels are being decimated by this crisis, with many closures, layoffs, etc.
Hugo (NYC)
As a young person who has worked in and out of restaurants around the country, I'm certainly terrified for my friends, coworkers, & all others who are living hand to mouth right now. I got laid off only just this morning (though I'm lucky to have some money saved) That being said, I'm kind of excited to see the ingenuity that comes out of this crisis. A Tabula Rasa for the restaurant industry seems overdue- down with the often ridiculous stage system that reads more like indentureship! I am going to be on the lookout for more DIY local delivery options from out of work sous chefs and line cooks- working out of their apartments, etc in a show of mutual aid in their neighborhoods. Options which, once this whole ordeal is over, can develop into the new standards for a new city.
Brains McGee (Kitsap County, WA)
Today we are talking about restaurants. Next week we will be talking about rationing healthcare and many unnecessary deaths. Sorry. Look at Italy. Unfortunately that is our model. Our governments have failed us. All of us, including those that own and work in the restaurant business.
Jeff (Bay Area, CA)
Perhaps this wouldn't be such an issue if major metropolitan areas, such NYC, had a stronger handle on the real estate market - especially regarding rent control. For ordinary citizens and business owners alike, soaring rent prices are the #1 threat to survival. Maybe an exodus from places like NYC will force a much needed realignment of the market. Then again, maybe we'll all just go back to business as usual, as usual.
Cephalus (Vancouver, Canada)
I just came home, depressed. One of my favourite places, open yesterday, is permanently closed today. We don't have government mandated restaurant and bar closure, simply a population either frightened or following government advice to stay home ("self isolate") combined with the total implosion of tourism and the cancellation of cruise ship dockings. Vancouver is a ghost town. Most small businesses and many larger ones can't possibly survive. Even though this is very early days in the epidemic, it's obvious the economic, social and cultural damage will be stupendous. It's unlikely we will just "recover" and carry on months from now when the risk of disease finally abates.
Michael Sorensen (New York, NY)
I have no confidence that the U.S. will do what is right during and after this pandemic. This country is structurally incapable and fundamentally unwilling to put people over money, and all people over just some.In the U.S., millions are uninsured or underinsured, people working multiple jobs can’t make rent, and workers making a few dollars an hour are told that if they miss a shift their hours will be cut. This is a society that responds to poverty with police, and to health care needs with jail. It may be true that viruses only see bodies, not class or immigration status, but there is no question that those who will bear the brunt of this pandemic will be the poorest and most marginalized. The fundamental inequality on which everything in this country is predicated will be exacerbated by this crisis in ways we cannot fathom.
Stacy VB (NYC)
Thanks for highlighting that major, system thinking is needed right now. Even just a public promise that this is happening or will very soon happen would go a long way. I hurt for our favorite local establishments and their people. That times millions of others.
Garagesaler (Sunnyvale, CA)
I feel so sorry for all the little restaurants in our area (Santa Clara County, California) since the "experts" have suddenly decreed that they must close their doors and only allow take-out orders. These are not big chains. They are little restaurants, and most of them have ethnic themed menus. How will they survive? I fear that they won't. Any employees will be layed off and whole families will face financial disaster. In a population of 1.7 million there have been less than 200 documented cases and 2 deaths. I read every day that 80% of those infected have no/mild symptoms and 5% require hospitalization. For that tens (hundreds?) of thousands of people will face economic disaster?
Andy (Charlotte)
I like reading the reviews that Mr. Wells scribes, and he seems like a good egg. That being said, I'm a little mystified by what the headline, which states, "However long the closings across the country last, governments need to move fast if the industry is ever going to come back". No matter how long the measures to contain the virus lasts (a few months...or a few years?) is Mr. Wells saying New York City will no longer have places where you can buy food that someone has prepared for you once this virus subsides? Is he saying, for example, that there will be no more Chinese food in Queens? Is he saying that there will no longer be establishments that charge hundreds and hundreds of dollars for food that has been lovingly and expertly arranged on a plate? If that is what he is predicting, it DOES sound rather dire. A New York City devoid of any restaurants.
paulyyams (Valencia)
This becomes a very immediate and intimate harm to a very real and small minority of our fellow Americans, who today will come to understand that the quality and richness of their lives is going to be terrifically affected, maybe for many months or even years. It will shake their confidence in what the meaning of their life is and do great damage to their relationships and enjoyment of public life. It will make them ponder just what is the life they've been living up to now and what does the future hold for themselves and their families and friends and their place in the world. Yes, I just can't imagine the shock and dismay and isolation being felt today by the 1% of millionaires and billionaires in this land of ours.
Jon B (NYC)
@paulyyams The 1% are already in their bunkers and 'isolated' vacation homes, stocked for a crisis. And they've probably taken their private chefs with them.
Ambrose (Nelson, Canada)
Nelson is a small tourist city in the mountains and we have tons of restaurants of many varieties; if there are serious travel restrictions, our wonderful restaurants might have to close because they depend on travelers. It could be very gloomy for our city as tourism is virtually all we have (a local factory making computer parts just moved to Mexico).
Sarah (Arlington, VA)
@Ambrose Canada has also wonderful ski resorts, and all of them are closing down. That effects the low salary worker, e.g. ski lift operators, piste preparers, dishwasher and other hourly paid service personnel the most. The same happened to resorts ski resorts in Europe as well, and those in the US followed suit.
Neil (Lafayette)
Once more severe overreaction accelerates the world’s arrival at the Second Great Depression. 1929, only worse. The cure is going to be drastically more terrible than the disease, and people who survive Covid-19 will be unemployed, poor and desperate for years to come. South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore have controlled the virus without these draconian measures through a system of TTT: Test, Track and Treat. Instead of “flatten the curve”, it should be “run it through and get it over with”. Those who survive will have an immunity and we won’t have to worry about it in the future. We also will not have to worry about a worldwide depression that will make 1929 look like a walk in the park.
Thomas Zaslavsky (Binghamton, N.Y.)
@Neil You don't understand the issues. One is the severe shortage of treatment facilities in the U.S. due to "efficiency" in providing hospital beds and ICUs, which if we "run it through" will kill hundreds of thousands unnecessarily. Another is the shortage of necessary safety materials for health workers. Etc. No one knows for sure that there will be immunity in the survivors, or how effective such immunity will be.
Dog Walker (Wilmette)
It’s not just restaurant workers, retail stores are closing and they are in the same boat. Grocery stores are stripped bare, if restaurants close where will we eat? I agree this was handled wrong from the start. Testing could have been done in schools, large offices, community centers If we had started a month ago & if a central entity like a government health department had tests available & were treating people immediately. Shutting down nursing homes to visitors & quarantining health workers who were exposed would have helped.
DG (Idaho)
@Neil I have to agree, viruses have been killing humans or thousands of years, its regrettable each one kills "x" amount but what leaders are doing now is increasing that number in spades as now "x amount will die for lack of money, living in the streets, etc. You dont shut down your economy over a virus.
Sidewalk Sam (New York, NY)
The loss of restaurant and bar jobs, along with those in theater, live music, film/TV shoots, and many other sectors, is going to have a profound effect on New York. As it is, the City is full of young and not-so-young performers, writers, visual artists, etc., who are close to unable to live here. Where are they going to go? Some back to their parents' homes, or those of other relatives, or of friends? I think there's going to be a great exodus of talent. And don't count on the landlords to spare the businesses, either. Some will, but many won't be able to afford to. Others will warehouse their buildings 'till times get better, and meanwhile write off losses on their taxes.
Stacy VB (NYC)
@Sidewalk Sam Agreed. This is why major systemic thinking is needed, and, unfortunately, on the fly.
Tim (Seattle)
@Sidewalk Sam But... exodus to where? It's not like NY is the only place where stuff is getting shut down.
Jon B (NYC)
@Tim They'll make an exodus to live with their families...where they will at least have shelter and the comfort of family and long-time friends. Living in NY without a job will quickly leave you homeless and starving.
Juliana S. (NY)
As a scared restaurant owner in the Hudson Valley I cant imagine how our peers downstate are handling this. I urge the Governor to suspend the sales taxes payment we have to remit to the state by 03/20. I understand is a huge loss for the state and localities but it would be a lifeline to life to the industry to weather this out.
Thomas Zaslavsky (Binghamton, N.Y.)
@Juliana S. I support you. The state is facing a budget crisis regardless of whether or not it forgives sales tax from restaurants.
Pups (NYC)
This column could be put to good use by listing restaurants that do take out. Yes, every single one of them. It’s a huge task, but it could spare a lot of people their jobs.
Left Coast (California)
@Pups Easy enough to look up on your own. Most restaurants have websites or social media. Look to those for updated information.
Pups (NYC)
@Left Coast I wish. Most websites list nothing. Look at Eataly. According to their website, their restaurants are open. Then there the neighborhood eat in take out Asian places. No mention.
GMooG (LA)
@Pups Many apps for this already exist: Postmates, UberEats, GrubHub
Louise (NY, NY)
New York needs great restaurants. The city, state and federal government should find ways to help the restaurants with bills they face now, and those as they support the restaurants over the next many months.
Dave Kerr (Pennsylvania)
@Louise It is not the federal government's responsibility to bailout the Airline industry or your local restaurant. It is, however, its responsibility to help those employees who lose their jobs or income as the result of the Coronavirus.
Rich (Rockford)
Unfortunately House Democrats fell far short in providing help in their 50 billion dollar appropriations bill.
True Believer (Capitola, CA)
The restaurant business in general is simply not economically sensible. The simple fact restaurants steadily whine about labor shortages is the tip off. If the industry was healthy to begin with it could raise wages enough to find the workers they say they need - supply and demand you see. But noooo, because margins are so slim they can not do that. Add it all up and what it really means in the microeconomic sense is that there are too many restaurants for the amount of business out there. And in the macroeconomic sense what it suggests is society can't afford to have so many people effectively occupied as glorified servants.
Stacy VB (NYC)
@True Believer This applies to all retail business. Margins are low not only for the entire food industry but for most clothing, entertainment, and travel. In fact, most businesses operate on low margins. The bigger problem is that we do not have a well-thought mechanism for social safety at all. We all operate on thin margins.
paulyyams (Valencia)
@True Believer Yes, you're right. I was in the business for 25 years, then came to my senses. It's an absurd business and even if you do everything right you don't make enough to make it worth your effort or skill. But, I used to think that the basic restaurant originated with a woman in her own kitchen of her home making food for people to serve out her front door, make a little extra money while being helped by her children and grandparents. Its hard, dirty work and pays almost nothing, but the family can survive. Thousands of years later its still a survivalist's business. It's crazy and heartbreaking but it has its own charms.
Jon B (NYC)
@Stacy VB I would go further and say that our current social safety net IS well-thought-out — by the Republicans and others who side with them to protect 1% interests: the point being to protect nothing and provide the most minimal benefits for the shortest period of time deemed 'acceptable' to the middle class, working class, and working poor. We did not arrive in this situation of no healthcare for 1/3 of the US population, nor the minimal social services! This is all by design due to greed on the part of the wealthy and their collaborators in successive administrations and terms of Congress and Senate. This event is merely ripping the scab off to show the festering pustule that is the true face of America for most of us.
Michael (Asheville NC)
Here in Asheville our entire tourism industry is closed and laying off workers. Art centers, museums, restaurants, tour guides, etc etc. There's no way this will be limited to that industry. Most of the country lives paycheck to paycheck, without incredibly monumental legislation to cover folks rents/mortgages, credit card bills, utilities, etc this is absolutely going to cause another great depression. With leaders like Mitch and Trump in office I fear the worst.
Karl (Charleston SC)
I owned a restaurant for 26 years before selling in 2006. Although there was always a savings account, I can’t imagine surviving total shut down demanded today. Drastic times need drastic measures.... just thank the Lord I’m not in that biz anymore!!
Pamela L. (Burbank, CA)
My heartbreaks for the small businesses that will be extinguished by these days, weeks and months of lost revenue. Unfortunately, our government won't be able to bailout every business and some will fail. We must reconcile ourselves to the changes that are imminent. This is, indeed, bad, but we're resilient and we'll figure out new ways to start restaurant businesses in the future. In the meantime, buy take out and help these businesses sustain themselves for as long as they can.
Dan Stackhouse (NYC)
No reason to downplay this, the frantic shutdowns and closings are going to bring about the second Great Depression. The tourism industry, restaurants, schools, theatres, musical venues, movie theatres, and many more industries are going to be decimated by these moves. Restaurants and bars are not going to recover, period. NYC alone will lose at least half a million jobs. This fumbling panic, with no support from the federal government, is going to destroy our economy for years. So yes, this is only the beginning. However many people die of covid, it will wind up not being at all important compared to the fact that we are annihilating our economy. Good luck everyone, and vote Trump if you want to be sure America never recovers.
Marlee (PNW)
@Dan Stackhouse "This fumbling panic, with no support from the federal governement, is going to destroy our economy for years"... and then you go on to support Trump? wow. I'm just still uncertain how anyone could watch that oval office address and still support him. The stocks plummeted afterwards which really doesn't support your theory.
Bette (Brooklyn, NY)
@Marlee um, did you actually read what he wrote about Trump? Read it again.
George (San Francisco)
@Marlee Y'all need to work on your reading comprehension: "Good luck everyone, and vote Trump if you want to be sure America never recovers." Emphasis on the "if you want to be sure America never recovers"
Arthur (NY)
America doesn't have to reinvent the wheel here. In civilized countries, right now, restaurants are closing. Their employees have their healthcare through universal systems so they don't have to worry. Their employers will be giving them two months pay as required by law. They will automatically be enrolled in unemployment and receive checks the moment their wages stop. Life will be hard for them but they will have an effective safety net which will keep them from becoming homeless or longterm unemployed. This is known as democratic socialism. You may want to think about it's advantages. Especially when voting in the next primary.
Thomas Zaslavsky (Binghamton, N.Y.)
@Arthur Actually it is social democracy, not democratic socialism. The difference is substantial, but maybe not too important here, as we insanely reject both.
Sandy FLA (Everglades Florida)
Steve (Seattle)
@Arthur You just said the Republican dirty words.
RonRich (Chicago)
Without a Federal policy on RENT, there will be massive food service failures and massive numbers of lawsuits. Just where do you think all the perishable foodstuffs are going to go and who is going to take that hit? Once again, a short-sighted government action.
ornith (Brooklyn)
here's how you help the restaurants, the workers, and everyone else: suspend all rent and mortgages and student loans. freezing evictions won't help if most of us won't be able to catch up fast enough to avoid it after the quarantine ends. give EVERYONE a stipend to cover food, medicine, and other necessary supplies - businesses can't afford paid sick leave forever, and workers can't afford not to have zero sick or vacation leave left for months once the worst passes - there's still normal injuries and accidents and regular cold and flu to deal with, and the people who get covid 19 *later*. unemployed people can't look for work when no one is hiring, and not all *actually* unemployed people are counted as "unemployed" or eligible for it - especially those who were (considered) self employed. unless we want to start adding starvation and riots to the situation, we NEED to take action to meet people's basic needs over an extended social isolation period.
Carl M (West Virginia)
Asking if the industry is "ever going to come back" seems like a stretch. It may be more like a forest fire - the old trees die but new ones grow in their place once the weather improves.
Silly (Rabbit)
@Carl M Ironic, if only we could apply that logic to the elderly.
Cynthia (NYC)
We can't underestimate what an economic engine restaurants represent for most communities, and especially in a city like NYC. They attract tourists just as Broadway does, creating a ripple effect throughout the NYC economy. Without a vibrant culinary scene, the attractiveness of a tourist destination dims, as do the airline traffic, hotel stays, and everything else associated with it. Restaurants also provide services and support to their employees from helping struggling people find counseling to finding them housing. A lot has been written about the "bad boys" in the industry over the past many years; there have been some very rotten apples. I know though that the vast majority support their teams as they would a family. I sincerely hope the government follows the advice laid out in this article and provides relief. The rewards of keeping the industry afloat are exponential.
Tom (Home)
@Cynthia No, the virus is exponential. Restaurants are now just a place to get infected.
JP (Rehoboth DE)
There are opportunities here. Restaurants can adapt their menus for delivery or pickup. Waiters can deliver. Patrons can pick up dinner on the way home. We have lemons. Be creative. Make lemonade. Reinvent the industry.
Darrel (Colorado)
Creativity is required. Ideally, the burden should be shared along the entire food chain (so to speak). Like maybe... - Customers buying gift certificates (perhaps discounted a bit by the restaurants). - Federal emergency funds payed to restaurants in exchange for providing meals for their staff, medical workers, people in quarantine, and others in need of support (enlist National Guard to assist with deliveries ?). - Discounted rent, utility, supplies for restaurant owners. - Some relief for building owners, utility providers, suppliers, to compensate for lesser rent/fees collected (again perhaps from federal emergency funds). ...not necessarily these things - what do I know - but the point is people still need to work, eat and live. Life is not going to grind to a halt - rather, it will need reconfiguration for a time. If we minimize the loss of productivity (by giving more people something to do and keeping the activity/income of effected businesses going to some degree) we reduce the economic hit. Then we can distribute that smaller burden, preventing any one group from having to take the full brunt.
Lauren (Portland, OR)
I still want to read your latest restaurant review, to give some sense of normalcy and to look forward to a time when we can once again enjoy dining out (and appreciate it all the more).
Alexandra Southam (Calgary, Canada)
Can’t say enough here. Restaurants are a vital part of every community. We have to have tax relief at a minimum. From all levels of government. Next would be access to credit. It takes a lot of people to run a kitchen and front of house.
fritz (nyc)
I cooked at home while working at a full time job and loved cooking BUT I also loved dining out with friends and family. One does not negate the other. The socialization alone over a delicious well prepared restaurant meal is a delight unto itself. A born and bred New Yorker of a certain age mourns the passing of this ritual.
Andy (New Jersey)
I recall a comment made by Ruth Reichl in 2004 as the scandal at the James Beard Foundation unfolded and it was learned that so much of the monies raised by chefs through Beard benefit dinners had gone into the pocket of the foundation's former president: Chefs (I'm paraphrasing Ms. Reichl here) are among the most generous, giving people in the world, routinely called on to volunteer their services at fund-raising events, attract donors to benefit galas, donate gift certificates to various causes. That the foundation had betrayed the very people who had worked to make it solvent was unacceptable. Yes, shuttering restaurants and restricting operations are necessary right now, and may even prompt some regular restaurant-goers to dig into the joys of cooking at home. But let's not forget the many forms of service chefs and their restaurants have provided us, the many enterprises and people they, in turn, support. I agree with David Chang that many restaurants certainly are too small to fail. And I'd add that it's absolutely unacceptable for all those who have benefited from the generosity of big-hearted chefs to witness struggle or demise without speaking out and taking action. - Andy Clurfeld
Milton Lewis (Hamilton Ontario)
Trump suggested July or August as the possible ending of these necessary curfews and restrictions. By then the NY economy will have suffered immeasurable damage and yet there seems no choice. Also notable the financial markets have no faith in Trump’s leadership. The market dropped dramatically as he spoke.Trump’s primary claim for another four years has disappeared in the wake of a virus that he claimed was a hoax or part of a plot to get him. I expect he still does not get it.
Thomas Zaslavsky (Binghamton, N.Y.)
@Milton Lewis Trump is wrong, as usual; there is no good reason to pick July or August rather than December or later.
Rich (Chicago)
Imagine how terrible it may be if people have to eat healthy meals at home, rather than high salt, high sugar, super processed foods at restaurants. It may put Weight Watchers out of business.
Barry Short (Upper Saddle River, NJ)
@Rich. Just because people cook at home doesn't mean that the food is healthy, and eating out doesn't mean that the food is unhealthy.
PaulN (Columbus, Ohio, US of A)
@Barry one of your two statements is accurate but the other isn’t.
cb (neverland)
@Rich That really wasn't the point. I assume from your post that you never once have gone to a restaurant and you have no empathy for the hundreds of thousands of restaurant staff who rely on jobs for their income.
Michael (O)
All payments for basic bills should be suspended for 60 days for households earning under $100,000 per year: mortgage/rent, utilities, phone service, cable, car loans, credit cards, insurance, etc. Small businesses should be given the same, PLUS direct relief equal to the 50% of the cumulative take home wages paid to employees - these funds should be passed on to the employees so they receive half of their take home pay to cover food and other necessities. This might stop the economy from grinding to a halt altogether. This part of the relief program should be reviewed/renewed in 15-day intervals as the pandemic expands or eases. Thoughts?
Timothy (Toronto)
@Michael given the staggering cost of bailing out the financial industry in 2009, a bailout that was ,in part, used to pay year end bonuses, your suggestion is a very reasonable idea. Apparently Moscow Mitch was beside himself last week at the thought of providing direct relief to middle and lower income families. I guess he doesn’t get a cut when that happens.
Deeg (TX)
@Michael 100k is one thing to a young single person with relatively few obligations, and another to a sole breadwinner with a family of four. Add student loans to your list. Other than that, I agree with you.
Deeg (TX)
@Michael 100k is one thing to a young single person with relatively few obligations, and another to a sole breadwinner with a family of four. Also - add student loans to your list of bills to suspend. Other than those two things, I agree with you.
Don Juan (Washington)
American Airlines is already hinting at a bailout again. Never mind they earned billions but squandered it away on stock buyback and other frivolous endeavors. I say, let them go! Now, small restaurants, they need help. I doubt the government will give it.
Practical Thoughts (East Coast)
Be careful what you wish for. Fewer competitors equals higher prices and fewer flight options.
Jackie (Chicago)
@Practical Thoughts Or maybe, like most every other country in the world, we end up with 1 national airline.
Thomas Zaslavsky (Binghamton, N.Y.)
@Practical Thoughts We already have fewer flight options and seats that are too small to tolerate.
Nicola (Spokane)
I had a friend created a freelance food delivery service in another city. The business would send out people to deliver food for restaurants which didn't have a delivery service. Our business would employ cyclists to go restaurants and deliver their food to customers. This was in 2007 and we didn't use the internet to coordinate it. If I had the means, I would do it here and coordinate it online, like how Uber does. Normally, I'd not share this business plan, but would be a way for NYC restaurants and their workers to survive this crisis.
Andrew (Brooklyn)
@Nicola That is a nice thought, however, that still does not account for nearly 50% of the restaurant employees who work in the front of house and are dependent on physical customers. Mr. Wells has also made the point that delivery and pick-up will not suffice in keeping these establishments open. The costs will quickly dwarf any profit made.
GMooG (LA)
@Nicola How is your idea different from GrubHub, UberEats, Postmates, etc?
Nicola (Spokane)
@Andrew Train them to do delivery work. This is tragic, but we must adapt. I'm disturbed that people aren't able to work and sustain themselves. Somethings gotta give. I've done both delivery and in-store work and it took me no more a few hours to be trained to do delivery work. If employees don't own a car like many here, send them out on bicycles. Personally, I don't think anything is getting better. All people need work, period. If I was a server, and if I had a choice about it, I would opt out for delivery work if serving wasn't an option. In both instances, you receive tip income and your people skills earn you money.
Rick (Summit)
All those bar and restaurant workers who are now unemployed and can’t pay the rent will be returning to family homes in other states or countries and they won’t be counted in the April 1 census as New Yorkers. This will cost New York City is representation and appropriations for a decade. I’m also concerned about the immigrant family who cobbled together enough money to open and restaurant and now that will all be lost, the business and likely the family too. Schools have always been a Petri dish spreading diseases rapidly through active kids in tight quarters. When schools reopen in 2021, we may see the dominance of home schooling and the end of disease filled classrooms.
John Graybeard (NYC)
Think this through. If you give rent relief to restaurants, the landlords will need relief from their utility bills and real estate taxes. And so on. The only solution is for the government to give, not loan, money to businesses and individuals, now. Start a $1,000 a month per person to individuals (thank you, Andrew Yang) and the amount of fixed costs to small businesses. Keep this going until six months after all coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
Pat (Somewhere)
@John Graybeard Exactly correct. You can't give relief to one group and not others. If it comes to this, combine the $1,000/month with price freezes as Nixon did in the 70's to prevent price hikes and inflation.
Daniel Kauffman (Fairfax, VA)
@John Graybeard Arbitrarily give money away? No, thank you. I would rather earn it.
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita, Kansas)
Restaurants, especially small ones deserve help. Airlines: NO. Let them fly one another around. In Coach. Where is all the excess cash they collected for baggage fees ? Sad.
Sarah (Arlington, VA)
@Phyliss Dalmatian Indeed, Airline should not be bailed out. They not only made lots of dough from baggage fees, but by putting more seat in and making space between rows even narrower because of their greed. Now US Airlines lower their ticket price to sometimes lower than $100, and especially young people buy the like crazy because they think they wouldn't be affected by this dangerous worldwide disease.
Rick (Summit)
Pilots are employed by seniority. If one airline goes out of business and a pilot is lucky enough to catch on at another airline, it will be at the bottom of the pay and seniority scale. I guess you think that’s fair because of the baggage fees the pilots charged.
Don Juan (Washington)
@Phyliss Dalmatian -- as I said above, let the greedy airlines, especially American Airlines, go bankrupt. Good riddance!
Riverwoman (Hamilton, Mi)
Restaurant workers are oft on AFC insurance and on extremely tight budgets. Insurance premiums for these and others in similar circumstances should be waved for the duration.
Susan Wilber (NYC)
Thank you for this article! Please let us know who the local organizers are when you have more info so we can support and volunteer.
Gabe Miller (Georgia)
This is a moment where we see an institution stumble and move to slowly to catch it before it falls. Restaurant fail for so many reasons everyday, and aside from the National brands, who expects the thousands of medium sized restaurants and mom and pops to switch from trying to expand to planning out which stores to close. This is a dire time indeed.
Sam (New York)
Is it possible at all for restaurants to produce meals that can be sold at grocery stores?
Daniel Kauffman (Fairfax, VA)
Every one in the supply chain needs to be placed on a freeze. No mortgage, no bills, nothing. The only thing that should flow are “war rations” and those ought to be paid based upon economic need from the government coffers. You’ve been paying taxes for another bailout that socializes losses and privatizes profit? Is that what you want? Rice, beans and masks today for anybody who asks. Payments back to the IRS at tax time for those deemed financially able to do for themselves.
Frank (USA)
@Daniel Kauffman Daniel, what you're proposing is an extreme overreaction that will cause much, much damage than this virus ever could. I'm in retail, and we'll will continue operating as normal.
Eric (Back)
The govt should have taken a piece of ownership of the automakers and banks that were helped out. True socialism, but possibly a source of income for the programs we need in place - healthcare, etc.
Barry Short (Upper Saddle River, NJ)
@Eric. I don't know about the banks, but the government made a profit on its automaker bailout.
GMooG (LA)
@Barry Short Not really true. There were two major loans to the carmakers. The larger loan was repaid, with interest, and option profits. The smaller loan, of about $10 billion, was not repaid.
GMooG (LA)
@Eric The government did do that, and made a profit selling those stakes
Tuvw Xyz (Evanston, Illinois)
"Life is Eternal Struggle of Good and Evil", as believed by the dualistic Manicheans and Cathars of the Middle Ages. The earlier equilibrium is usually restored after some perturbation. So is it also to be expected of the urban desire to eat in restaurants. Apart the financial hardships the closures cause the restaurant owners and staff, people may be induced to learn to cook at home. Would this not be a silver lining in the cloud?
Barry Short (Upper Saddle River, NJ)
@Tuvw Xyz. " people may be induced to learn to cook at home. Would this not be a silver lining in the cloud?" New Yorkers eat out a lot because apartments are small and kitchen and dining space is often limited. If one is going to socialize with friends, it is frequently at a restaurant. What is cooking at home inherently good, while eating out is inherently bad? I think that is a decision that people should make for themselves without the moral judgements of others.
See also