Matt Jennings

Photo contributed

I am a consultant in the food, beverage, and hospitality industry. As a lifelong chef, restaurateur, and food professional, I’ve been fielding many questions about how to support my beloved restaurant industry during the unprecedented times in a COVID-19 world. The answers are nuanced and not exactly simple, but in a moment of limited operations and mandatory closures, the answers begin with focusing on how to maintain customers. That’s where the community comes in.

Like you, I now make every meal at home with an ever-dwindling pantry. The simple market errand has turned into a haphazard, six-foot-distance mask and glove ritual, where supply is unreliable and patience can be low. And though my career is based in food and hospitality, we still struggle to create wholesome, delicious meals from odds and ends. Well, breathe easy, because there’s a mutually beneficial answer to that unending question: “What’s for dinner?” It’s your local restaurant. Let’s be honest, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. You want a break from the dinner-and-dishes hamster wheel. Restaurants are desperate for your patronage to stay afloat.

As we face the reality of a forever changing foodservice landscape, we thought it would be helpful to provide our top four ideas of how to support this fragile sector as a patron, neighbor and fellow small-business owner. It has never been more apparent that our lives as humans and entrepreneurs are inextricably linked. Ordering from your favorite spot is a tremendous help right now. But there are also some other ways to help the restaurant industry right now:

  1. Order take away and do it as often as you can. Ordering takeout directly from the restaurant and going to pick it up curbside is an excellent way to directly support your favorite restaurants. When you order takeout, you are paying them directly, same as if you were dining in. Many establishments have had to pivot due to COVID-19 and have created robust online order systems, prepackaged family meals, and even unique grocery items that can be purchased ahead of time and then picked up outside the restaurant in an organized fashion and at a safe distance. Right now, finding ways to go direct to the restaurant is more important than ever, as restaurants need cash flow to keep the lights on and pay their limited staff. This is also a great way to give yourself a little break from cooking so much, and an opportunity to re-establish family pizza night or taco Tuesday.
  2. Donate. There are so many incredible organizations that need our support right now. Here are a few that we support and admire greatly. Frontline Foods: Once again, the restaurant community proves how important the concept of hospitality truly is. With donations processed through Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, Frontline Foods pays local restaurants to prepare and deliver meals to hospital workers in their community. Donate through World Central Kitchen or sign up as a volunteer. Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants (ROAR) New York: One of the hardest hit communities in this pandemic has been the workers directly employed by foodservice establishments. To ensure these individuals and families are able to support themselves during mandatory closures, more than 50 of New York City’s eateries and restaurant groups—including influential names such as Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group, David Chang’s Momofuku Group, and Tom Colicchio’s Crafted Hospitality—have formed an alliance to create ROAR), launching a restaurant employee relief fund. The fund, operating on a first-come-first-serve basis, will give individual grants of $500 to help food-service workers cover expenses such as rent, food, medicine, child care, and more.The James Beard Industry Relief Fund provides critical financial assistance to small, independent restaurants. Due to COVID-19, these businesses have an immediate need for funds to cover operating expenses and keep from going out of business. This important restaurant partner not only helps to support them financially through the relief fund but fights on their behalf on Capitol Hill, to advocate for the industry as a whole, in particular those small and independent restaurants that help make up the local fabric of our communities.The Independent Restaurant Coalition is a U.S. trade group formed during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic by independent restaurateurs and chefs. During the pandemic the group lobbied local, state and federal governments for relief after their businesses were closed by government mandates to slow the spread of the virus. IRC proves that there are tangible ways your support can directly affect the lives of those food and beverage workers in your community.
  3. Social support. As we all know, we live in a world where content rules. The importance of social media has moved from a fun, quirky hobby to a vital part of the small business ecosystem. As a consumer or fellow business owner, your words, actions and perspective matter. Use them for good and help promote your local restaurant community. The power and influence of social media is a simple tool we all can use to support our favorite haunts. When you do visit your favorite places and order take away or delivery, talk about it on social media. Post photos of your food. Tag the business and your local elected officials and use the hashtags #saverestaurants and #toosmalltofail.
  4. Be patient and empathetic. Restaurants are facing the unprecedented task of drastically altering their businesses so they can serve us safely and efficiently. In an industry where carving out success from slim margins has always been the precedent, the razor’s edge is even sharper now. In restaurant culture, owners are very familiar with the understanding that no two days are alike and one never knows what awaits on the other side of the “open” sign. But in a COVID-19 world, waking up and watching the information change rapidly, sometimes hourly, makes it almost impossible to create operational strategies that stick. Our ask of everyone is to be patient and empathetic to this process, as we are all in this together, for the long haul.

Matt Jennings is a lifelong chef, culinary consultant, and author of Homegrown; “Cooking From My New England Roots”. He lives in Charlotte.