Empty Plate: Pandemic Ravages Restaurants

As the coronavirus pandemic drags into its 11th month, there is still no end in sight for forced closures and restrictions that have upended the restaurant industry. In fact, things are getting worse, with several states imposing new shutdowns last fall that have yet to be lifted or eased. The latest government report shows layoffs in "accommodation and food service" totaled 393,000 for the month of November, up from 130,000 in October.

The situation is unsustainable, according to Jonathan Horowitz, CEO of Convive Hospitality Consulting and former president of the Houston Restaurant Association. "There are a lot of small businesses--restaurants in particular--that are just hanging on," he says. "Businesses weren't set up to operate at 50 percent capacity or 75 percent capacity, and if the revenue is not there, they just can't hang on forever."

Thousands of restaurants nationwide have already gone belly-up since the pandemic began, and the ongoing shutdowns and restrictions likely mean it will get worse. "What we're seeing right now are predictions that anywhere from 30-to-40 percent of independent restaurants won't make it through this," says Horowitz. "And even with some of the bright spots in terms of getting vaccines to people and things like that, it's still going to take a really long time for the industry to recover."

While things are expected to improve gradually over the course of 2021, much of the damage to smaller restaurants has already been done and is irreversible. That is why Horowitz is calling for more stimulus money to help restaurants stay afloat until they can fully reopen.

Still, more closures are on the horizon. "It's not all gonna happen at once--it's not going to be just one month where suddenly everybody closes--it's going to be a steady drip, drip, drip of closures," says Horowitz. "And at the end of this, we're all gonna look around and say where did everybody go?"

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