December 29

2020 is Finally Over

2020 is finally over, but For restaurant folks the work is just beginning.

There’s no possible way to gloss over 2020 – it sucked. This was a year where we watched as a pandemic shut down an industry we not only depend on, but love. Businesses shuttered and millions of people found themselves suddenly out of work. Worse, COVID-19 has claimed more than 334,000 lives, and still counting. We’re all living with the scars of the last 10 months, but we’re also all ready to move on to 2021.

First I got the bad news – the things that are broken right now will still be broken at 12:01am Jan 1st. But then I have some good news – we have a chance to put it back together. We can’t save what we already lost, but we can build a better hospitality industry out of the ashes of 2020.

First, some practical points:

While many of us have not been able to save money, a lot of the customer base that has supported the restaurant industry has put away serious cash. Some estimates put the total amount at $1.3 trillion dollars. As vaccines push the COVID case counts down and restrictions are lifted, those customers are going to be sick of their own cooking and have money to burn.

Many restaurants owners have learned new ways to create revenue with takeout, delivery and outdoor seating. As the industry reopens, restaurants will continue to find ways to be more efficient and resilient. In many cases this will mean updating the old, broken systems and equipment that could make working so frustrating. Not only is it expensive to replace the not-so-great-but-fine-I-guess POS, it’s nearly impossible to do so when a business is open every day. As storefronts come back online, long deferred improvements may finally happen.

Finally, there’s a lot of optimism from the heavy hitters. According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, companies like Lettuce Entertain You, with over 120 restaurants across the country, are evaluating more potential new spaces than they were this time last year. Also notable, investors are looking for opportunities in restaurant groups. Restaurant groups like Uchi, based in Austin, TX, have partnered up with equity investors who are looking forward to restaurants getting their doors back open.

My point? Everything strongly implies a boom in restaurants in 2021.

And now, an inspirational point:

Archaeologists have recently uncovered a food stand in the ancient ruins of Pompeii. The food stand was apparently closed rather suddenly in 79 AD after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The stand has nearly perfectly preserved frescos of chickens and ducks (very likely items on the menu) as well as pottery and other artifacts. While that food stand had to close, its purpose and inspiration lives on: to feed people good food and to give people a place to gather.

As long as there are people, there are going to be restaurants, bars, hotels, venues and places to meet with friends and family over a warm meal or a cold drink. The hospitality industry isn’t like other businesses which come and go, rise and then die, like so many Blockbuster Video stores. The hospitality industry is built directly out of the very human desire to connect with other humans, to break bread and commune together. In short, while restaurants may open and close, the industry will continue to exist for as long as this planet continues to be habitable.

So on New Year’s Eve, let’s all look forward to the coming project of putting our industry back together.


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