Three months later, the prediction of what the future will bring has been made clear for many restaurants across the nation already forced into permanent closure. COVID-19 paused our social lives, but it didn’t freeze the cost of living. Any business owner in hospitality can’t escape the survivor’s guilt, the thoughts in the back of their mind wondering if their lifeblood will drain next.
The hospitality industry involves so much more than serving food and drinks, and restaurant owners were the last of the dominos to fall. Before letting go of staff, they began to cut costs with outside expenses. Renovation plans for the future shredded. Public relations and marketing services dismissed – existing invoices left unpaid. Entertainment became no longer needed catering to a crowd of zero.
“We were literally the first thing cut,” says Scott Buccheit, co-owner of Artwing PR.
“We were left being owed thousands of dollars from multiple clients. I don’t see a bounce back anytime soon, short of a cure or a vaccine. The recent finding that the virus is hard to transfer from surface to human is good news for restaurants and will, hopefully, be good news for the entire industry.”
His clients, including Gnocherria and Boka Chicken, handled the fallout the same way everyone else did, one day at a time. Owned by famous restaurateur Anisa Moloney and her husband, Executive Chef Michele Luliano, Gnoccheria’s Wall St. was the most recent addition to their impressive culinary portfolio. The 150 person dining room has welcomed eaters from all over the world, and the venue has been host to private upscale events, including the recently aired Real Housewives of New York Sonja Morgan’s fashion show.
The Lulianos had promising plans for their most daring venture to date, but will the location survive for them to see it through?
Owners are struggling to keep one restaurant afloat, so it’s been a real doomsday for those trying to save multiple eateries from drowning.
“Gnoccheria has multiple locations,” notes Buccheit, “so they focused on the ones that were doing best in takeout and delivery already before they closed down the others. The Wall Street location has a spectacular rooftop garden scheduled to open in May, which obviously didn’t happen. Another client, Boka Chicken was doing amazing take out. The virus and its fallout hit, and Boka’s location in Chinatown became a major deficit.”
State health officials and most governors acknowledge that the road back to normal – or something even vaguely resembling it – will be a long one. But the mention of a rooftop is good news for the gnocchi hotspot, as places with outdoor space can expect to bounce back with more ease this summer. In some states, restaurants are already being allowed to offer outdoor seating.
Most marketing emails explain what unprecedented times we’re living in, but for La Masseria owner Peppe Iuele, it’s the uncertainty of what’s to come that makes this situation so unparalleled. “Safety is our top priority at La Masseria. Our staff members are wearing masks, gloves, sanitizing, and following all CDC regulations. But it’s challenging to predict what the future will bring in this industry; however, we will be dedicated to adapt and change accordingly – whatever may be next.”
The white-tablecloth Italian eatery—whose name means “medieval manor farm” in Italian—is as rustic inside as the name suggests, despite their New York location centered in bustling midtown. Upon entering, guests immediately greeted with wooden ceiling beams, stone archways, antique farming tools, and staff who treat you like family. So how can Luele, along with the countless fine dining restaurant owners, possibly transcend this experience into delivery?
Customer loyalty seems to be the answer. Even without the dine-in experience, regulars are still ordering from their favorite spots, some to show support, others because they miss quality food.
“Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, La Masseria has experienced value and emotional connection with most of our regular customers,” says Iuele. “We created a friendly takeout menu, and the loyalty of our customers has meant the world to us. They have been patient, understanding, and thoughtful during this entire process. We are still creating as much experience as we can with daily specials and offers, and we look forward to continuing to serve them in the years to come.” They have locations in New York City, Palm Beach Garden and Rhode Island.
As an experienced restaurant equipment distributor, Leena Heiman knows that sustainability is the most crucial factor in the hospitality industry. Leena believes that the scale of this pandemic has highlighted how interconnected regions, economies, commerce, and businesses are.
She emphasizes that as focus shifts to enhance hygiene further, the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to build not only healthier communities but more substantial companies. As a hospitality consultant, she encourages businesses to use this as an opportunity to listen to consumers and their needs.
“The hospitality industry, and any other business in the tourism industry, are struggling with cancellations,” Leena says. “As the Coronavirus related social distancing and travel restrictions increase, day by day, occupancy rates are down 90%. The low demand has increased the need for restaurants and any other business in the hospitality business to re-invent themselves, creating disease prevention and sanitation operating practices that address all the challenges faced by the global pandemic. By doing this, they will regain customers’ confidence.”
Leena advises her restaurant clients to become part of the global cleanliness council committed for hospitality grade disinfectants. Furthermore, she suggests creating partnerships with corporations in the disinfectant and hand sanitizer industry to elevate their safety protocols and maintain a sustainable, economical plan for the future. “Fostering open communication between suppliers and the restaurant owners is essential to improve patron confidence without sacrificing sustainability or profit.”
It’s clear that the hospitality industry is interconnected, and that means collaboration is vital for all players. COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate and has affected most businesses all over the world.
“We must find new solutions that can provide increased hygiene, more sustainably, and affordably across the board. This will take cross-sector collaboration to innovate and move at a pace that will get us back to where we all want to be.”
No one might know for sure what the next few months will entail for the hospitality industry, but what is certain is that it will still be there. What businesses need to do now is find innovative ways to survive as time passes, and customers begin to return to their favorite places.