Semester Story

The Impact of COVID-19 on The Restaurant Industry

According to the National Restaurant Association, 110,000 restaurants permanently closed their restaurant in 2020. When the coronavirus pandemic first wreaked havoc over the United States back in March of 2020, it changed the way restaurants were able to operate. Restrictions on dine-in capacity and early curfew put the whole industry in a tough situation. The idea of packing a restaurant full of hungry people ditching their masks to eat food and grab a drink on a Friday night quickly became a distant memory. So, the restaurant industry was facing a dreadful reality; the coronavirus wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. Restaurant owners were forced to adapt or face closing down their business for good. Some restaurants, like the local Poke bar Zenfish, had to get creative in order to keep their doors open and continue to do what they love, serve food to the community.

Restaurants Importance To Our Local Economy and Community

The restaurant industry is unique in the fact that the majority of restaurants are actually small businesses. According to the National Restaurant Association, 70% of restaurants in the United States are small businesses. The majority of restaurant owners are local family-run restaurants and are vital members of our community. Small businesses provide opportunities to owners and jobs to people in our communities. Small businesses are essential to our local economies. Approximately 10 percent of the United States economy is affected by the restaurant industry. Also, spending your money at a local restaurant can generate 4x more benefits for the local economy.

Pre-pandemic and The Fight Against The Virus

Before the COVID-19 virus took over the United States It was common for restaurants to be able to monetize their dining room. The dine-in option was the main source of revenue for most restaurants across the United States. Options like delivery, take-out, and outdoor seating were just other options to bring in more sales. That changed when the pandemic took over the United states in March. In North Carolina, there was a wave of restrictions that hit the restaurant industry. Restaurants had to stop doing dine-in on March 17, 2020, and there was a stay-at-home order issued on March 27, 2020.  With the dine-in option not possible, restaurants had to pivot to options like delivery and take-out to keep their doors open. Restaurants turned to adopt delivery apps like UberEATS, GrubHub, Doordash, and Postmates to increase their sales. Also, options like curbside pick-up and take-out became prevalent at any restaurant that could manage to do it. Owners and restaurant managers were changing up their menu to try and cater towards delivery style food or quick options that can easily be made for take-out. Things started to look a bit better in May as it was beginning to heat up outside, and outdoor dining became possible again. In May of 2020, the no dine-in restriction was lifted and a new 50% capacity restriction was put into place. With the increase in outdoor seating sales, it was also now possible for restaurants to have dine-in. The situation was much improved for the restaurants that were able to make it through the initial wave, but that only lasted so long. As summer fades to fall, outdoor seating became less possible and the pandemic started to surge again. Overall restaurant Sales started to go down during the winter months as the pandemic started to see a second wave. Again, the whole industry was facing more challenges throughout these months. There were restaurants that were able to survive the endless challenges that COVID-19 presented; those restaurants had to be flexible with their business.

The Story of Zenfish

One of those restaurants is Zenfish. Zenfish is a local Poke bar owned by Janet Lee. Zenfish has 3 locations throughout the business triangle in North Carolina. The three locations are 9th street in Durham, the Homestead Market in South Durham, and a location on Chapel Hill Road. Zenfish has been operating for over 4 years now serving poke bowls, poke burritos, and various other menu items to the local community. Janet has 27 active employees working for her. Here is the story of how the owner Janet was able to weather the storm of the pandemic to save her small business and the jobs of her employees

Support Your Local Restaurants

As summer weather arrives and vaccines roll out it looks like it could be a great bounce back for the restaurant industry. COVID-19 cases continue to drop, and outdoor dining is starting to become a reality again. Still the restaurant industry as a whole hasn’t returned to the level of sales as pre-pandmeic and some places are still struggling with economic hardships. So, if you have the ability, go out and support your favorite local restaurant. Whether that’s grabbing a bite to eat with a friend at restaurant with outdoor seating, or ordering take-out at your favorite local restaurant, every dollar counts when supporting these local small businesses that are vital to our community.