Independent Restaurants Brace for the Unknown - Press "Enter" to skip to content

Independent Restaurants Brace for the Unknown

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“We’ve cut it to a point where we are trying to remain sustainable,” he said. “What I am telling my staff is that the present is impossible to decipher right now. We are trying to focus on the future.”

When that future comes, reopening restaurants will come as a slow wave. Chains, which have the legal resources and corporate structures to navigate the complex process of securing government loans and grants, will probably reopen quickly, analysts say. Small, nimble places with simple menus, like burger joints and taco stands, may also be able to react quickly. But the longer the shutdown goes on, the more lead-time fine-dining restaurants and places with complex menus to execute will need.

“Even if we’re only off for three months, you can’t just turn the light switch back on,” said Danny Meyer, who this week laid off 2,000 employees, about 80 percent of his Union Square Hospitality Group work force. “It will take at least four to six weeks to get back on your feet.”

And the restaurant landscape will likely look very different. Daniel Shein, a partner in Nur, is trying to raise capital for Agnoris, a start-up software company designed to help restaurants use data to run more efficiently. He presented the idea to investors Monday as part of “demo day” at Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley initiative that helps start-ups refine their products and pitch them to selected audience of investors.

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The paradox of pitching a product for future restaurants while trying to save one from dying is not lost on him. Like others, including Mr. Colicchio, Mr. Shein said the only bright spot in the crisis is a chance for the restaurant industry to renew itself.

Before the virus hit, the nation’s restaurant business was almost overheated, with new places opening faster in many cities than diners could keep up with. Restaurants were essential amenities for developers and gentrification markers in neighborhoods. Rising rents, labor shortages and struggles to find a better way to care for and compensate employees were constant topics of conversation.

When the industry does start up again, many say it will be a time to let go of outdated business practices and develop new, more creative ways to feed people.


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