Stats Of The Week

The State Of The Industry

In December, job losses in the restaurant industry increased dramatically with 372,000 jobs lost, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment report. Compared to November, which saw 17,000 jobs lost at restaurants and bars, this new staggering number indicates a worsening trend for employment growth within the industry. Leisure and hospitality unemployment is 157% higher than the national average, according to the Independent Restaurant Coalition. At the end of 2020, the foodservice industry had 2.5 million jobs less than pre-pandemic levels. The continued spike in COVID-19 cases across the country has led to increased dining room restrictions which have resulted in major job losses. As of December, over 110,000 restaurants have permanently closed.

"Today's jobs numbers are devastating for our operators and our employees. The industry has nearly three times more unemployed workers than the next closest industry. As we go into 2021, the availability of the vaccine provides some hope, but it will be months before we start to see recovery for restaurants," Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs at the National Restaurant Association, said to Restaurant Dive.

End Of Year Sales Improve From The Beginning Of The Pandemic

Data from The NPD Group shows an improvement in restaurant sales from the end of the year compared to the early months of the pandemic. In December, customer transactions at major restaurant chains were down 10% compared to 37% in April when shutdown orders first came into effect. The full-service segment experienced transaction declines of 70% in April with sales improving to only a 30% decline in December. The improved sales are largely credited to restaurants adopting off-premise channels, like curbside pickup and delivery. Quick-service chains were better suited to handle the negative impacts of the pandemic due to their drive-thru operations. In December, the quick-service segment experienced transaction declines of 8% compared to a decline of 35% in April.

What’s Trending

States Begin Rolling Out Vaccines For Restaurant Workers

After the CDC prioritized restaurant workers as “other essential workers'' in December, their time to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations is soon arriving. This week, cities are beginning to announce timelines of when essential workers will be able to receive vaccinations. Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a press conference that the city’s restaurant workers will be eligible to receive vaccines as soon as February 1. Virginia and Maryland residents that are eligible will also be able to receive vaccines at that time. Though foodservice workers have been deemed essential workers, it is up to each state to come up with a plan for vaccine distribution. Some states have not yet laid out clear dates of when their local restaurant workers can receive the vaccine.

Chicago city officials said in a press conference that the city is prioritizing hospital workers, stating that they don’t have enough vaccines yet to give to other essential workers. They predict restaurant employees will have to wait until at least February. New York is also vaccinating only frontline workers at this time with NY Governor Andrew Cuomo attributing the slow rollout to both supply and dissemination issues in a recent press conference. California Governor Gavin Newsom has criticized the distribution of the vaccine as too slow with only 35% of doses being distributed to healthcare workers and long-term care residents in California so far.

Biden Advocates For Restaurants To Receive More Support

While President-Elect Joe Biden announced his final cabinet nominations last Friday, he also announced his plans to increase minimum wage, expand stimulus funding, and provide more relief for restaurants and bars. Biden said during his remarks that no one who works 40 hours a week in America should live below the poverty line and are entitled to a minimum of $15 an hour. He also said restaurants, bars, the hospitality industry, and others that have been hit the hardest will receive direct relief. The president-elect stated his main focus is on helping small businesses and to correct the current administration’s failure to provide funding for small businesses that need it most. Biden said mom-and-pops stores are the backbone of the U.S. economy and stated one in four small businesses have closed during the pandemic.

“The bipartisan COVID-relief package passed in December is an important step, but just a down payment. Next week, I will be laying out the groundwork for the next COVID economic relief package that meets this critical moment for our economy and country,” Biden said in remarks.

A Second Round Of PPP Loans Is On The Way

The U.S. Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department have reopened the Payment Protection Program as of January 11 to new borrowers and some existing PPP borrowers. The second round of PPP was funded as a part of the $900 billion stimulus package with $284 billion in funds available for the program. This installment of PPP loans is targeted towards job retention, operation expenditures, property damage costs, and other expenses through March 31. The association has created a manual to streamline the application process for new borrowers and in some cases will be available for past borrowers.

“The historically successful Paycheck Protection Program served as an economic lifeline to millions of small businesses and their employees when they needed it most. Today’s guidance builds on the success of the program and adapts to the changing needs of small business owners by providing targeted relief and a simpler forgiveness process to ensure their path to recovery,” Jovita Carranza, administrator of the Small Business Administration said to Nation’s Restaurant News.

Customers Rate Restaurants’ Ability To Follow COVID-19 Guidelines

With safety at the top of everyone’s mind as the U.S. experiences record positive cases, Yelp has launched a new feature that displays how well a restaurant complies with safety measures. Users will be able to provide feedback about a restaurants’ enforcement of safety guidelines that will be visible on the restaurant’s listing under a section called “Health & Safety Measures”. If a majority of users observed social distancing being enforced and staff wearing masks, the restaurant will receive a green checkmark. If a restaurant receives an orange question mark, that indicates the majority of users said measures weren’t being enforced or that responses were mixed. The company said in a blog post that the update is intended to instill confidence in consumers as they continue to support their local businesses.

Restaurants Launch New Menu Items To Satisfy Current Consumer Behavior

The new year brings a new wave of consumer behavior. The month of January shows conflicting views of what consumers want to eat with many wanting to follow through with New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier while others seek to indulge in comfort foods during the cold month. For those looking for healthier options for their favorite meals, Fazoli’s has introduced a new low-carb pepperoni and bacon flatbread to satisfy your cravings while following your health goals. Freebirds is also riding the low-carb trend by adding cauliflower rice as an option for any of their burrito bowls. Frisch’s Big Boy is enticing comfort food lovers by pairing their new grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with potato chips alongside tomato bisque soup. Appealing to vegans who have a sweet tooth, Insomnia Cookies has added a selection of plant-based cookies with flavors like birthday cake, chocolate chunk, and double chocolate chunk.

Bright Spots In A COVID-19 World

Neighbors Save Family Farm From Going Under

Like many farmers that lost their main source of income due to restaurant shutdowns during the pandemic, the Laughing Stock Farm in Freeport, Maine was no different. Owners Ralph and Lisa Turner suddenly had eight overflowing greenhouses and 10 tons of vegetables in cold storage with no demand. Once the Turners realized the sales they were accustomed to were no longer there, they went back to the drawing board and created a farm stand. They sold pre-bagged produce for $3 a bag and made locals aware of their new endeavor through their company newsletter.

Lisa told the New York Times that more and more people shared their newsletter and on opening day experienced more visitors than they had imagined. After realizing they were onto something, Lisa contacted local beef and dairy farmers to add to their goods. The Turners also found that customers would leave generous tips to show their support. Though the farm stand hasn’t seen a huge profit, the Turners are thankful for the stand and the support from their neighbors in helping their business stay afloat.

Barber Shop Owner Steps Up To Help COVID-Stricken Restaurant

Würstbar, a restaurant in Jersey City, NJ, had adapted its business model to adhere to local guidelines and the current demand. One day, one of their employees had informed them that they had been exposed to COVID-19. Rather than risk spreading the disease, restaurant management chose to temporarily shut down the restaurant until all of its staff could get tested. When word got around the close-knit community that the restaurant was closing down, the restaurant’s neighborhood barbershop, Virile Barber Shop, stepped up to lend a hand. Barbershop owner Andre Fersa scheduled his staff to take shifts at Würstbar to offer drinks and pretzels to customers for outdoor seating. Once the restaurant was back in business, they expressed their gratitude and encouraged residents to visit the barbershop since they have also been negatively impacted by the pandemic.

“A big thank you to the crew at @virile for taking over Würstbar yesterday, that was a blast! We love this community and couldn’t ask for better neighbors,” posted from Würstbar’s Instagram account.

Quote Of Hope

“Restaurant workers are the heart and soul of the food they serve, it's vital they come back to work.” - Sean Feeney, co-founder of Grovehouse Hospitality Group and owner of New York City restaurants Lilia and Misi