The world around us had changed irreversibly. This is a realization that has been hard for me to come to terms with over the past six months, but it is one that has brought me significant peace as well. There is no way around this fact, but it can give you hope if you look at it the right way. This is how I felt when reading the New York Times article entitled “How to Save Restaurants” by one of my favorite chefs and food writers, Priya Krishna. As someone who has always loved cooking, baking and eating at restaurants, and reading and writing about food, I know that the effects of the pandemic are most visible in the restaurant industry.
In March, as cities shut down, restaurants were faced with an impossible choice: to stay open for takeout and risk the health of their employees or to shut down their businesses entirely. With either of these choices, their odds of economic survival looked grim at best, and dire at worst. There have been some estimates that say one in six restaurants will never reopen. Even as restaurants begin to reopen for outdoor dining, there is only a short window, at least here in the Northeast, where it will be the right temperature to eat outside at night. When winter comes it will be unreasonable to assume that the restaurants will be able to support themselves at 25 percent capacity inside. This has reshaped the industry, no matter how you slice it.
However, as you begin to look past the crisis, there is hope. There have always been problems within the industry. From underpaid workers, to the level of sexism in professional cooking, (as of 2018 only 21 percent of head chefs across the United States are women) there have been many people calling for change for a very long time. This overturning of the industry can be seen as a time to make that change. As the old institutions of the past are closing, this is the time for a new way of doing business. As Krishna writes in her article, restaurants are the second biggest private employer in the United States, and it holds as a way of looking at the American economy on a small scale. The work that every member of a restaurant staff does, from the head chef down to the dishwasher, needs to be valued. There is room for change on almost every level, but one of the most important things is that there needs to be more respect for restaurant workers in general. Now that they have literally risked their lives to keep people fed during this time, they need to be given competitive salaries awnd benefits that are awarded in almost all other industries. This changeover can also allow for new and diversified restaurants to open, filling in these spaces where others have been forced to close. Although it is not the ideal scenario for this change, even in the darkest of times there have to be positives to look forward to at the end of the tunnel. So, continue to support local businesses, like restaurants, and hope for a brighter future ahead.