My serving job at an expensive restaurant in Manhattan ended abruptly in mid-March. The last evening I worked, I had the distinct feeling of being a violinist in the quartet on the Titanic, doggedly serenading despite certain death as my sonatas/wine key attempted to assuage the panicked first-class passengers trying to flee.
The vast majority of people that can afford to dine out these days are also people who an afford an extended stay at a hospital because of COVID-19 and also can manage extended healthcare costs after they leave the hospital.
The rest of us are not so lucky in this regard and a fair number of people I know are also refusing to return to the workforce as they know they will have less money available for rent/bills/food/discretion than if they remain on unemployment.
I hope this will be the push the restaurant industry needs to leave tipping behind. It is a shame it had to come to this.
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.
From what I hear the rent costs at this intersection have been wildly out of line with the true costs for years now, if what I’ve heard is right. Setting that aside for a moment, there is plenty of story to be had. Heck, someone on streets.mn even did a photo essay of all the vacant storefronts back in 2016.
Not a lot has changed… but with the pandemic some things are definitely changing here
Only Caffrey’s looks like it’ll come out of pandemic closure more or less unscathed.
Most people don’t even think of this corner at this point except for the big ole sign built on its roof:
It’s been empty for years after Milio’s closed. Redfin has it off market and valued around 825K… but doesn’t actually say if anything is being developed anymore.
It’d make a hell of a rooftop if it weren’t for the sign.
Next door to the north you have Moto-i—which does have one hell of a rooftop, and Lyn-Lake Brewery, which also has a great rooftop.
So what now?
The big worry for a lot of people around here is having Lyn-Lake turn into another Uptown. We have heard people refer to this part of town as Uptown and… it just doesn’t sit right, really. The main similarity they’ll have is multiple empty storefronts all over.
It is not one we appreciate. Here is hoping this intersection rebounds sooner rather than later. I’m sure there are more intersections in other cities that have complicated histories and complicated stories.
The percentages are lopsided to heavily favor the services themselves, and that’s by design. A lot of people have commented on this fact in a lot of places.
Do the right thing: pick up the phone and call the restaurant directly— yes, it will mean talking to someone (the horror!) but it usually will result in you (as the guest) developing a relationship with the restaurant itself. This is a good thing. You want to save your favorite restaurant, right? This is what you have to do.
A small sacrifice to help not only the restaurant itself, but the people working there.
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.
Apparently this is something Salt Bae has draggedalong with him from before he even his the meme big leagues in addition to accusations of sexism, racism, willfully ignoring health violations, etc etc etc. That’s before the most substantial accusation of them all: That his food is just bad.
The industry is already notorious for intensely disliking union and those that would push a union agenda in a restaurant and what unionizing would do to a business, whether the fears that are real or imagined. There are multiple pros and cons for each and we are not going to go into those in this post.
The choice quote of the Vice article:
Kucur talked about Gökçe’s obsession with Scarface: “He was so influenced by the movie. He thinks he is like Tony Montana. He said to me, ‘What’s the name on the restaurant? Nusr-Et. What’s my name? Nusret. What I say, goes.'”
We should all be so fortunate if the fireworks are even a smidgen like in the finale of the movie.
A few months ago the staff of the restaurant I was working at were all told of an all-hands meeting. Nobody thought it strange as it had been over six months since the last meeting and that one had resulted in an entire reworking of the menu. So it was time.
I started getting giddy when the corporate Chef showed up, and then one of the owners showed up. Something was afoot. So we all walked down to the conference room of the building, and the boss immediately dropped the bomb on us.
The restaurant was to close down when the lease was up, a month and a half from that day.
It did come as a bit of a surprise to most of the staff—myself included. Our numbers weren’t the best but we were breaking even, or so I thought. We had a fair number of regulars, and people regularly raved about the quality of the food.
It meant a number of things but first and foremost it meant a fair number of employees would have to seek out new employment in the slowest season of the year.
But here’s the thing. This is closing down a restaurant from an employee’s point of view. I did not have to worry about emptying out the space, or closing down accounts with suppliers and purveyors, or worrying about those last paychecks. It is a very different experience since as an employee you… get to just walk away worrying only about that last paycheck.
It still smarts. There are always more restaurants to work at but it is a special thing when you have a good crew working together.
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.
This post started so innocently, in a most innocuous manner.
Got up from the desk, went over to the kitchen with my mug. Grabbed some tea, filled the mug with hot water, set a timer. That’s when I saw them:
All the timers I had set for items I would be cooking:
Spicy ground meat. Deep, red spice and heat, almost a chili.
Random odds and ends that just remained there
Those timers were on my phone for months while I worked at this establishment. Timers for basically everything there was, with names that were easy for voice recognition to work with.
Without these timers I assure you, I would not even be in a kitchen. Al the product I would be burning and throwing away, all the waste. Working on the line gives you a great sense of timing but nothing beats having a timer.
And then, my mind still in efficiency mode, I deleted them all.
It wasn’t until I was done with this that I realized what it was I had done. This restaurant recently closed down and I know a few of the employees there are still reeling, yet here I am casually deleting the last remnant of it on something I use every day, namely, my smartphone.
Yes, there are the mementos: a couple of spoons, a pan, a mug, the great many pictures of my coworkers goofing off. But these timers… they were something of actual use, not just something that was done for fun. This was done for actual work.
But they’re gone now.
You leave a restaurant, and slowly, bit by bit, a restaurant leaves you.
Surfing around found myself entranced by this post over on Reddit:
Sure the design of the cup makes you feel like a child— which might be what the bar wants. Perhaps there are other designs out there that would hold up to the rigors of food service but I have yet to find one that fits the bill. Maybe one fully made of glass, with a wide straw opening?
Then of course you could use metal straws.
I have yet to see a bar actually washing the inside of them properly so your mileage as a bar person will vary depending on what the boss got for the place.
You could also use paper straws, which seem to be the preferred solution for bars everywhere.
People will complain they go soft too quickly… but that’s because you’re leaving the straw inside. You can put it on the bar on a napkin, or on a saucer if provided one.
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.