The effects of Philly’s restaurant boom have been both global and local, driving tourism and helping revitalize neighborhoods. Before the pandemic hit, close to 80,000 Philadelphians were employed in a food-related job, and approximately 1,000 new spots were opening every year.
The coronavirus could cause all of it to come crashing down.
Lots of businesses are suffering under government-mandated restrictions to minimize viral spread, but the hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit.
It’s not just a story about sales dropping 25%. Unlike other sectors, this isn’t something that’ll play out over the long term. Not only do restaurants and bars by definition depend on people gathering daily in one spot, they also almost always operate on razor-thin margins.
That means when the COVID-19 prevention lockdowns are lifted, some restaurants and bars are likely to be lost forever, never able to bounce back after being buried by mountains of debt.
While many publicans and proprietors essentially survive on a month-to-month basis, depending on constant cash flow to pay vendors and make rent, paycheck- and tip-dependent hospitality workers are in an even tighter spot. Often lacking benefits like vacation time, sick pay or health insurance, they’re now suddenly thrust into joblessness — with no safety net in sight.
If this makes you shudder, you can step up to lessen the blow. Here are six ways you can help the Philly restaurant industry weather the devastating slam brought by the coronavirus crisis.
Get takeout or delivery
With dine-in service banned, many Philly restaurants have pivoted to offering food to go. Some of the fancier spots that tried this during the shutdown’s first week have pulled back, but plenty are still producing meals for takeaway.
The crowdsourced Dining at a Distance site, curated locally by “Check, Please!” host Kae Lani Palmisano, lists more than 200 Philly spots offering some kind of takeout.
Because of Mayor Kenney’s “stay at home” order effective in Philadelphia as of Mar. 23, all orders must be placed in advance.
The method that’s most supportive is to go through restaurants directly, because delivery services take a cut if you placed through their respective apps. Some places will take your order and credit card over the phone, and a few have launched their own online ordering. Look for the “Direct from Restaurant” tag in the database to find these options.
For restaurants that don’t have the staff or infrastructure to handle direct orders, using services like Caviar, Uber Eats, DoorDash and Postmates is still helpful to shuttle much-needed cash to proprietors.
Order beer and wine
While bars and restaurants are not allowed to sell any booze for consumption on site, they are allowed to sell small quantities of beer, wine, sake and cider to go.
Look up your favorite drinking or dining establishment on Instagram and check their website to see if they’re offering pre-paid booze for pickup. This is where liquor licensed establishments make a lot of their profit during normal operation, so it can go a long way toward helping stabilize their bottom line.
Also offering prepaid pickup are several distilleries and breweries around the region.
Buy gift cards
Gift cards always provide a welcome cash infusion for bar and restaurant operators, who look forward to the annual holiday boom.
Buying these cards now — look for info on restaurant websites or social media — is like making a zero-interest loan to your favorite spot. When this pandemic has subsided, you’ll be glad to have an excuse to go out to dine.
One caveat: if an establishment ends up folding because they weren’t able to hang on throughout the catastrophe, you might end up with a worthless piece of plastic. But if you want to help avoid that situation, pony up a few dollars now for that potential celebration dinner when this is all done.
Load up on merch
Don’t want to make a gift card bet on future brunch dates and celebration dinners? Many restaurants have online stores where you can order swag and other merchandise.
Now’s the time to get that McGillin’s pint glass, Federal Donuts sweatshirt, Jose Pistola’s t-shirt, Termini Bros. tote or other clothing, hats, mugs and materials so you can rep your favorite brand in all those quarantine selfies you’re posting to Instagram.
Donate to a fund
You can also just donate directly without looking for anything in return. This obviously provides the most aid, since no one has to shoulder the cost of food, booze, gift cards or materials in return for the money — but make sure you know where the donations are going before you give.
There are a couple of ways to contribute directly to laid off or out-of-work employees.
Check out the spreadsheet called the “Philly Virtual Tip Jar,” where you can peruse the list of nearly 1,000 people to find someone you know and send them funds directly via PayPal, Venmo, or Cashapp. You can also contribute to the whole group, and administrator Michelle Cudia, a bartender at Tria Taproom, will distribute it evenly.
The Philly Restaurant Server Relief Fund is another way to send cash to workers. Set up by Cheryl Molle, it’s a drive to raise money for people whose full-time jobs are in the restaurant industry. Applicants are screened and approved on a first come, first served basis.
If you want to direct funds to a specific establishment, several of them are collecting donations via GoFundMe. The amounts restaurants are asking for varies widely.
Lê, the owner of Hop Sing Laundromat, which is currently closed, collected a bunch of the campaigns and listed them on Facebook, including:
- Suraya – $125,000
- Pizzeria Beddia – $125,000
- Condesa – $100,000
- The Love – $100,000
- Parc – $50,000
- Loco Pez – $25,000
- Le Virtù – $10,000
- McGillin’s – $7,500
- Tattooed Mom – $5,500
- The Lucky Well – $5,000
- Grub House – $5,000
- Noord/Winkel – $5,000
- Fergie’s Pub – $5,000
- Devil’s Den – $5,000
- The Victoria – $3,500
- Doobies Bar – $1,000
- Mike’s BBQ – $500
- Fox & Son – whatever you can
Lê also pointed out that some of these establishments bring in millions annually, and others do not. “Should you donate to a restaurant that does $3 to $14 millions in annual sales because it’s your ‘favorite’ place or should you help a small BYOB place that can barely keep the lights on?” he wrote.
Advocate for federal assistance
In the end, personal donations aren’t going to save the industry, and restaurant owners know that. Via trade groups and social media pleas, they’re asking governments for relief.
In a letter to White House and congressional leaders last week, the DC-based National Restaurant Association asked them to consider a $455 billion aid package. Ideas include setting up a recovery fund via the Treasury Department, offering low-interest federal loans, providing disaster unemployment assistance and other potential relief.
But unlike airlines, banks and hospitals, food-service operations have not yet been discussed when national leaders discuss bailouts.
Prominent chefs and restaurateurs are trying to force the issue, and you can join them in advocacy by writing your representative. Find more by searching the hashtag #toosmalltofail on social media.