By Ruth Bayang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Only one in five restaurant owners say they are confident that they will be able to keep their businesses running until normal operations resume.
That’s according to the results of a recent James Beard Foundation (JBF) survey.
Independent operators, on average, have laid off 91% of their hourly workforce and nearly 70% of their salaried employees, according to the JBF’s survey of 1,400 restaurant owners in April.
An informal survey of restaurant owners in Chinatown-International District revealed that most did what they had resisted before—signing up for all food delivery services just to get some money coming in. According to the website Yelp, food delivery orders doubled since the outbreak began. With the governor’s Stay Home order, many restaurants closed and business was almost entirely delivery or takout. It has been one way for people to feed their families without the risk of leaving their home. Many third-party delivery providers also offered promotions to mitigate the financial burden on restaurants.
Some operators get around using food delivery services by enlisting family members and relatives.
With most of the staff laid off and the need for front-facing customer service eliminated, family members who may not be so great at customer service can still chip in by helping to prepare takeout orders, or by delivering food, thereby cutting down on labor costs.
Another strategy that local restaurants have implemented to stay afloat is to limit their menu. With fewer dishes to prepare, owners don’t have to buy as much food. The operators we talked to have also kept their prices the same, so as to retain customers.
As demonstrated in the JBF survey, most restaurants will permanently close because owners do not have the financial resources to hang on. The ones who have no debt, have sufficient reserves, and own their own real estate (so they don’t have to pay a lease), are in a better position to survive the COVID-19 economic storm.
More than half of the operators who responded to the JBF survey said they have taken on at least $50,000 in new debt obligations due to the pandemic. Among respondents, 80% had applied for a new Small Business Administration loan, 58% had applied for an Economic Industry Disaster Loan or grant, and 34% said they had applied for a community-based loan or grant through their city or state.