Since the start of the lockdown measures to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants have been among the hardest hit economically, with over 8 million employees laid off and businesses losing $80 billion in sales since April. Now that some of these restrictions are easing, how will restaurants get back to work? Katie Couric talks with Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti and Union Square Hospitality Group’s Danny Meyer to see what steps they’re taking toward the future, what changes they think will be permanent, and what happened with that small business PPP loan they returned, on this episode of Next Question.
Danny says he understands that “this is not the thing that’s going to end the world,” which means it’s more important to focus on what decisions leaders can make to get their business through this and even reemerge stronger than they were before. Those decisions can be heartbreaking; he had to lay off more than 2,000 employees in one day. He compares it to chemotherapy: “In order to stay alive, you have to do something that almost kills you.” Cutting his own salary and contributing to their employee relief fund is important to him, and he wants to rehire as many people as possible once it’s safe to get back to work. Agility and innovation are his watchwords: Right now, all they can do is delivery and pick-up, so he’s thinking about what that can mean in terms of community and relationships. Some of the best ideas he’s seen are subscription services some restaurants are offering, where they deliver a family meal to your house or a market basket of ingredients and recipes. “Some of these things are going to stick even after this is over, and if we add those to our pre-existing business model, we can emerge even stronger than before,” he says. “But we’re going to have to be patient.”
On a similar note, he points out that this pandemic also highlighted the economic importance of the restaurant industry. Most people didn't realize that there are 660,000 restaurants in America employing over 12 million people. But also, that they hold an important place in our lives emotionally: Many occasions, like weddings, funerals, graduations, and birthdays center around food, and without being able to gather at a restaurant, more people have realized how vital they are to a sense of community. Perhaps that awareness will help restaurants come back stronger as well.
But most of all, it’s important to remember that the pandemic won’t last. “This truly is temporary,” Randy says. “We can look forward to a time when we can be together again.” Listen to the episode to hear more about how the restaurant industry is responding to this crisis, and what they see on the horizon, on Next Question.
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