Tumultuous Times for Restaurateurs: How Consumers Can Aid New Businesses

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The $899 billion restaurant industry prediction for 2020 was short-lived as it expects to lose $240 billion come year’s end. While that number alone reflects a 27% decrease in market value, rampant predictions have cause to believe anywhere from 30-50% of local restaurants may close forever.

Before COVID-19, the restaurant industry was one of the largest, opening 13,251 new shops in 2018 alone. Those thousands of restaurants employed 15.3 million people, now devastating them and their families.

Reality Check

The good news is there’s always good news. It’s true now more than ever that we cannot control life, but we can control how we relate to it. Consider this.

Among the 30 million small businesses, over 500,000 new pursuits pop up monthly. While it’s common knowledge that most don’t survive, that never stops people from trying.

History’s laden with the archetypal underdog for a reason. The human spirit’s innately resilient. No number can accurately reflect the triumph occurring behind the scenes.

Cue San Francisco. Before COVID-19, San Francisco had 4,415 restaurants. 384 opened last year and 535 closed. Again, that was before the pandemic. So?

These are normal numbers for the restaurant industry. More fail than succeed. Still, the pandemic’s to thank for everyone’s heightened arithmetic skills, as new business owners calculate their frenzied odds.

Everyone Loves an Underdog 

The unforeseen COVID-19 wave in March 2020 begged some questions. What about those 13,000 new nation-wide restaurants planning to open? How do new businesses stay afloat? 

Naturally, people’s focuses landed on historic, long-standing businesses and new businesses became a blind spot. But what about those with wet walls and unfinished floors? What about those who’ve yet to open, and those who just did?

Talk about emotional whiplash. There’s nothing more disorienting than moving forward only to bungee back. It’s like putting your car in reverse while you’re in drive with no transition in between. Buckle up.

By connecting with these deeper tales, we may even be returning to what food as a concept was always supposed to be.

While many have acquired bruises, new business owners seem surprisingly unscathed. New restaurants have a fervor and ferocity that’s a clear antidote to this pandemic.

Even better, their energy’s transforming people’s perspective of food, culture, stories, community, and the dining experience entirely. By connecting with these deeper tales, we may even be returning to what food as a concept was always supposed to be.

How New Businesses Stay Afloat

The pandemic’s exposing societal and systemic patterns that need shifting. Instead of excess, people are intentional. Instead of impulsive, people are mindful. 

As a result, what seemed like the worst timing for new restaurants is going A-Okay. Why? Come hell or high water, people are pursuing their dreams. In the face of job loss, many are seeing an opportunity, asking themselves, if not now, when? 

Creativity in the entrepreneurial realm’s at an all-time high. For every dreadful statistic, there’s a better truth looming underneath it: people are adaptable, flexible, and strong. 

Amidst elaborate research, it became clear that new businesses require the following three things to survive the pandemic.

Attitude

All the pandemic-born restaurants interviewed had owners with some kind of go-getter mentality. Sharofat Khamraeva and the business partners of Halal Dastarkhan, for example, saw the pandemic as exactly the time to open. 

With folks bored at home, they questioned, “Why don’t we open now? We could wait, [but] let’s open now.” They transformed stagnant energy into an innovative, Uzbek-inspired pursuit.

Ismoil, one of the business partners behind Halal Dastarkhan.

Similarly, Eric, part-owner of the new Vietnamese and family-run Bun Nha Trang, knew the risk and went for it. “The economy’s kind of crazy, restaurants aren’t doing too well, [but] we didn’t want to wait any longer,” he claims.

From the why not’s to owners risking everything, the energy behind these new businesses is unmatched.

Momentum

The laws of physics are alive and well, as new businesses prove that energy in motion indeed stays in motion until acted upon by an unbalanced force. Restaurateurs, meet COVID-19, the most unbalancing of forces.

Still, the spirit that fuels new ventures is overriding fear. Matt Leum, gourmet grocery store and restaurant owner of the new Roma’s Ristorante Italiano explains, “…This being my first restaurant ever, I’m lucky I’m not carrying around the baggage of how things used to be. This is just it. This is how I do it.” 

Matt Leum with SF’s very own Sister Roma, the inspiration behind the restaurant’s name.

Starting anew comes with the prospect of uncapped potential. Let’s let the ambitious, determined, hopeful energy be the thing that’s contagious these days.

You!

While it’s true where there’s a will there’s a way, businesses can’t live off hope alone. That’s where you, the consumer, come in. There are several ways to adopt consumer consciousness to keep new—and old—businesses afloat.

Reconsider Third-Party Apps 

It’s nice to pay for convenience, but third-party apps can do more harm than good for your chosen restaurant. An out of sight, out of mind mentality makes it easy for third-party apps to keep consumers in the dark about their 30% service fees to the restaurant. That means your dollar won’t directly support the restaurant, making them work harder to break even or profit.

As Borhan Homran, owner of San Francisco’s new SoMa-based Krispy Krunchy Chicken summarizes, “The pandemic policy cut [rates] in half, 30% to 15%. Still, 15% is a lot. Right now everything’s costing more…They slashed costs here but other things go up as a result.”

Instead, consider picking up the food from the restaurant and tipping well to support the staff.

Keep up With New Businesses

It’s easy to think the world’s stopped, but new businesses are everywhere. Next time you’re feeling adventurous or want to try something new, check out what new restaurants await you!

Reviews and Referrals 

Nothing’s more impactful to new businesses than good reviews. Any exposure helps. Since modern-day dining’s an interactive experience, owners appreciate you circulating your pictures, posting, and spreading the word! 

Consumers are marketers. Your word holds impact. New businesses love your loyalty and it feels good to be loyal.

Expand Your Relationship With Food

Food’s not just about the food, it’s the whole experience. The classic dine-in dinner now involves ordering methods, third-party delivery services, and boxed meals. 

While this method increases safety, it decreases customer-facing connection. Disconnection gravely impacts human health, so see how you can reconnect with restaurant staff from afar. Slow down, learn about your chosen restaurant, and lean into the depth of your dollar.

Before you order takeout next, consider your food ordering process. Do you read the About Us page on websites? Do you take interest in the story of those serving you? How might learning about your food change what—and who—you chose?

Consumer Consciousness Makes Lasting Change

Everyone needs to believe this pandemic’s not for nothing – and it’s not. Next time you’re down, see how you can offset the dread with the prospect of new. 

Restaurant staff yearn to connect with consumers now more than ever in this socially-distant time. Being physically apart makes money a weighted form of communication. Nothing feels more supportive to restaurant staff than knowing you consciously chose them.

Being a consumer mid-pandemic’s a chance to shift old paradigms, grow, and build anew. At the peak of money consciousness, why not combat stress with empowered consumerism?

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