Restaurants, Resiliency, and Lessons From Our Past


It has been said that there are two very distinct types of people in this world — individuals who are restaurant folks and those who are not. Some have started as busboys and dishwashers and have turned into giants of the industry. Some have worked the many counters behind the Golden Arches and deemed their experience worthy of later success in other fields of commerce. And, then there are the lifers — those who have made the hospitality business their calling and career choice.

Regardless of the mastery of craft or level of experience, be it a New York City executive chef at a three-star restaurant or a general manager in a fast-food drive-thru, they all share a common gene — the “Restaurant Gene.” This gene enables them to possess traits that come into play in all facets of the business, from dealing with long hours of stress and schedules to inventory lists and par levels of product. They do it with passion and love. Only those who have graced the table of a pre-meal or slung endless orders of drinks truly understand.

But, the biggest and most valuable trait these titans of hospitality maintain is one in which now, more than ever, will help guide them through these times of COVID-19 and the precarious state of the very business they love — resiliency.

The National Restaurant Association is predicting that 5 to 7 million hospitality workers will lose their jobs. With that statistic and a staggering $25 billion in already-lost sales during this ever-changing landscape of furloughs and take-out, their ability to be resilient and adapt is more important now than ever before. In short, people in the restaurant business are tough. And, one only has to use history and its lessons of the past as their guide to illustrate that the proof truly is in the pudding, or at the very least, a tableside soufflé.

Resiliency in Our Past

In the roaring ’20s, when alcohol sales became illegal, cities across the nation like Chicago and NYC filled the void of prohibition with the creation of the speakeasy. The Depression Era saw the advent of the American Penny Restaurant, adapting to the mirror of its age, serving the unemployed and starving American middle-class.

When the towers fell on that fateful day during 9/11, hospitality and restaurant employees were faced with the loss of jobs and uncertainty. Once again, history showed their resiliency to carry on. Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy brought troubled times to regions of the country that are affected still to this day. The economic hardship during the Great Recession of 2007 is another example in history of the resiliency of those within the hospitality segment. Instead of folding, people chose to adapt and survive.

Although history serves upon its platter multiple reminders of the strength of this workforce, COVID-19 presents an unprecedented landscape for owners and workers alike. The reality is, without further government intervention and mobilization of the private sector, some restaurants will not come back and re-open.

Resiliency Today

But now, just as in the past, examples of resiliency and adaptability are showcasing themselves throughout the restaurant world. In Rockville, Maryland, the owners of True Respite Brewery created a new alcohol delivery platform linking breweries across the nation to bring craft beers to the doorsteps of their customer base.

Big-box chain restaurants such as California Pizza Kitchen and Panera Bread have attempted to keep sales flowing by creatively transitioning to grocery sales. Co-founder Ben Conniff of Luke’s Lobster, an international chain that opened its first location in New York in 2009, is continuing to “be creative and re-imagine our business every day to figure out how to be relevant.”

As spring turns to summer and the restaurant industry once again attempts to navigate through an uncertain and unprecedented world, one thing is certain — the resiliency of those who carry that restaurant gene will use their understanding of the past to survive their forthcoming days and months once again.

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