According to data collected by FERN, as of July 28 at 12pm ET, at least 528 meatpacking and food processing plants (372 meatpacking and 156 food processing) and 75 farms and production facilities have had confirmed cases of Covid-19. At least 48,248 workers (37,876 meatpacking workers, 5,240 food processing workers, and 5,132 farmworkers) have tested positive for Covid-19 and at least 191 workers (170 meatpacking workers, 14 food processing workers, and 7 farmworkers) have died.
This… is pretty bad. A lot these places are almost exclusively staffed by immigrants, who are one of the hardest hit communities as they usually cannot access healthcare like everyone else. Immigrants already actively distrust the federal government under the Trump administration.
My fear and everyone else’s is that this will get worse.
Decentralized, delivery-only restaurants—to say nothing of the WeWork-ification of restaurant kitchens—point to greater problems and complexities, like widening inequality, the high cost of living in coastal cities, the tenuous financial model of restaurants, and a culture in which, whether by preference or necessity, people prioritize convenience even in their leisure activities.
What happens to everyone else that doesn’t give in to the VC-backed fist of capitalism? I personally already had to leave my beloved kitchens because of the pandemic and the prospect of working in glorified trailers does not entice me.
The restaurant industry in our state is reeling. You can go from basic PR announcements to personal stories, but the facts are stark: Our industry is bleeding dry due to the pandemic and from the looks of it the amount of help we’ll get is going to be severely limited.
All you have to do is look at the federal response.The National Restaurant Association put out a report and the numbers are depressing, to say the least:
Nationwide, sales were down 47% during the period from March 1 to March 22
54% of restaurant operators have switched to off-premises service only
Seven in 10 operators have had to lay off employees and reduce the number of hours worked
Roughly half of them anticipate more layoffs and hourly reductions over the next 30 days
More than six in 10 said they’ve had to reduce their operating hours
As of yesterday I have been furloughed by my employer. Granted, I was working minimal hours as a host, but still… it does hurt the bottom line. Our governor announced basically all places of leisure are to close until March 27, including all restaurants, pubs, breweries, food halls/courts, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The situation is quite scary for people in food service right now. I can think of at least two restaurants that might not survive being closed down for this long, and that is contingent on the closure not being extended further into the future. In Nevada they’re set to close for 30 days, so that will make for an even harder experience for the industry in that state.
It will be a hard time for everyone. Let us help each other in the industry:
Pickup food from your local food bank, and donate to it when the situation is better.
Apply for unemployment benefits. Check with your employer beforehand as some employers are not being honest or forthcoming about employment status.
Some grocery and big-box stores are hiring temporary help due to the crush of people. Of course, this risks community exposure to possible contagion, which you may or may not want.
If you’re stuck at home, video call your service industry friends. Don’t text or call. A lot of people rely on the job to get their share of social interaction for the day and it helps your mental health to talk with other people in the same situation.
The current winter season in my city has been absolutely brutal. As of right now we have had 12 restaurants close down since the middle of December and I am hearing rumblings of a few other places that are between a rock and a hard place.
A few have done the absolute worst by their employees and let them go without any notice whatsoever. Others just a week of warning. Few are those that do right by their people and give them proper warning so they can start looking for employment elsewhere.
This does lead to the specific problem I am thinking about as I write this. There is now a glut of skilled restaurant people looking for work in this town and no one will, or can, hire them. In the summer months restaurants are absolutely desperate to hire skilled labor, but the situation reverses during the winter months.
This year has also been much, much worse in terms of closures. If memory serves the average was three or four restaurants permanently closing for business. I am not about to go down an internet rabbit hole looking for data so it is likely the average is higher, yet no one really talked about it. In this industry places can and will come and go in the blink of an eye.
So, what happens to those newly unemployed hands? A lot of them probably have other jobs they can rely on to pay the bills. Others will find employment, maybe in this area, or by moving to another part of the country. But a few will quit— and will not come back to the industry. This applies particularly to the cooks. Cannot sell food if there is no one in the kitchen to cook it.
There is some hope with some new restaurants already open and others that will be opening in the coming weeks and months, but it might not be soon enough for people in trouble now. When spring arrives the employment cycle will, without fail, start over.
Some people are blaming local government for raising the minimum wage or for general hostility to small businesses. Others are blaming the state for favoring Big Business. Let us please not talk about the federal government. Everyone is kinda sorta joking about blaming Millennials, even though they’re the labor pool most restaurants depend on much to their own detriment— when is the last time you saw a server over the age of 50 working somewhere other than a diner?
I don’t have a solution or even the idea for a solution. I just noticed this fact and consider myself fortunate to have a career in a different sector, with enough time to turn my thoughts to this industry that has taught me so much and I hope will keep doing so.
I hope that most find jobs quickly at good places. For now hoping is all I can do.
The story is simple: The president has said he wants to protect American trade but the actions he has taken up to this point have proven he is just not up to the task. Which brings us to something a lot of people are not really prepared to deal with:
Having gotten in a trade war with China the federal government is now getting into something that could be termed trade skirmishes, all because the president did not like something the European Union was free to determine for itself after a long-running legal fight that involved the World Trade Organization.
Please comment on this regulation at regulations.gov, and contact your Congress representatives to dissuade the U.S. Trade Representative from this levy.
I’m just about two months late to this party but better late than never, right? The National Restaurant Association did a report on what they think will happen over the next 30 years and it is worth a read, even if it is for the chuckles you’ll get out of it.
Be aware— it is kind of a large download, tipping the scales at 30 Megabytes which is why I am linking to its landing page instead of the document itself. If you are limited on bandwidth wait to hook up to someone’s wifi.