Streets are barren. Bars are largely devoid of patrons. And you’ll have no problem getting a reservation at that fancy restaurant ― unless, that is, it’s closed entirely.
Welcome to the new normal in the time of the coronavirus outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday issued a recommendation urging people not to attend events with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. Officials in some places went further, ordering the closing of restaurant dining rooms or advising eateries to cut their seating capacity.
Restaurants are responding by doing what they can to assuage a nation that will be increasingly isolated, deciding whether to close entirely or to limit their business to takeout and delivery.
Renowned chef Jessica Koslow of Sqirl in Los Angeles talked about her decision to go take-away on Instagram:
An LA restaurant group that includes Ludo Lefebvre’s Trois Mec on Friday emailed reassuring words diners: “For those who decide to dine at home, most of our restaurants offer pick-up or delivery services; This includes Son of a Gun, Jon & Vinny’s Helen’s, Petit Trois, Kismet and Kismet Rotisserie.”
Enterprise Fish Company, with locations in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, promised patrons measures to prevent the spread of the virus. “Employees will be washing their hands often and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after handling cash, credit cards, before and after breaks,” the company said in an email to patrons.
For many establishments, the response to the virus has been taken out of their hands.
New York City will shut bars and restaurants, except for takeout and delivery services. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti moved Sunday night to close bars, gyms and movie theatrers until March 31, and said restaurants will be limited to pickup and takeout orders.
The restaurant industry is already showing signs of adjusting to the abrupt change.
Chef Nick Shipp at Upper West in Santa Monica, California, is offering a 20% discount to those picking up food.
“This has happened so rapidly,” Shipp said.
Shipp pointed out that cleanliness has always been a core mission in the restaurant industry. For his restaurant, other steps now include clearing tables for extra space and having abundant hand sanitiser at the ready.
“If you’re more comfortable sitting on your couch and hanging out, we get it,” Shipp said. “We just want you to be able to enjoy our food.”
The coronavirus clampdown will do more than rob diners of a well-earned good time, Shipp noted. For those who rely on the industry for their livelihood, it could be dire.
“The biggest casualty of a lot of this stuff is the hourly paid employees and the guys that rely on tips,” Shipp said. “The margins are already so thin in this line of work, anyway. This is kind of a doomsday scenario. It’s like really, really bad.”
The OpenTable reservation service assessed the coronavirus effect on the industry last week, before much of the US began responding to the outbreak, and found that diners “declined by around 30%,” according to March 12 data.
Ray Garcia’s Broken Spanish in Los Angeles will temporarily shut down, but is accepting orders for tamales via pickup with an online form.
Brennan’s in New Orleans remains open, Ralph Brennan and Terry White, co-proprietors of the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, said in a statement that promised increased cleaning and readily available hand sanitiser.
Chef David Guas, owner and operator of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar and Eatery in Arlington, Virginia, will reduce hours and provide curbside takeout service.
Guas is also thinking about how the virus outbreak is affecting life beyond his business and is partnering with the nonprofit Real Food for Kids to serve free lunches to local children affected by the shutdown of schools.
It’s a mighty and magnanimous gesture. And it’s a reminder that getting through this trying time requires hard work and the generosity of others. Whether it’s donating to programmes like Real Food for Kids or supporting a local restaurant by grabbing some takeout, we can all do our part.