Foodservice sector braces for impact as US COVID-19 cases spike
A recent spike in U.S. COVID-19 cases has put the domestic foodservice sector back on the defensive.
Some U.S. restaurants are voluntarily re-closing their dining rooms – and many states and cities are now requiring masks in all public places – as cases jumped nationwide in the past week.
As of 30 June, the U.S. has more than 2.5 million COVID-19 cases and at least 126,140 deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. Also on 30 June, U.S. COVID-19 cases rose by more than 40,000 in one day for the fourth time in the past five days, BBC reported.
At least 16 states have paused or rolled back reopening plans in response to a surge in new coronavirus infections, according to a CNN report. Those states include Arizona, Texas, California, Florida, New York, and New Jersey.
New Jersey Governor Philip D. Murphy said plans to allow indoor dining to resume on Thursday, 2 July, would be postponed “indefinitely,” The New York Times reported. New York City officials will make a decision on whether or not to allow indoor restaurant dining rooms to re-open on 1 July. Indoor dining is allowed in the rest of the state. And late last week, California and Florida ordered all bars to close again – except for to-go orders. Texas restaurants can now only operate a 50 percent capacity instead of 75 percent previously allowed.
Restaurant chains that have voluntarily closed down in Texas include Katy, Texas-based Kolache Factory, which said it would shut down all 27 locations for dine-in, Nation’s Restaurant News reported.
San Antonio, Texas-based The Empty Stomach group, which operates Barbaro and Hot Joy, temporarily closed both restaurants due to the spike in cases. Dallas, Texas-based Bob’s Steak and Chop House is temporarily closing from 28 June through 6 July.
In Jacksonville, Florida, Graffiti Junktion, Mellow Mushroom, and several bars closed their operations for dine-in – prior to Governor Rick DeSantis’s 26 June order for all bars to close (except for to-go orders).
Individual North Carolina eateries including Johnny Lukes Kitchen Bar, The Southerly Biscuit and Pie, Circa 1922, Bistro, and Copper Penny have temporarily closed their dining rooms, Nation’s Restaurant News reported.
Now months into a shutdown that has resulted in on-and-off restaurant dining room closures in the U.S., the effect on seafood suppliers, distributors and wholesalers has been devastating, according to New York City-based Premium Seafood President Michael Sirkus.
“Certain items like breaded shrimp, which are big items when people sit at bars and eat – that business is gone. It just disappeared as of March,” Sirkus told SeafoodSource.
Premium supplies wholesalers that supply restaurants, hotels, and retailers have suffered as a result, he said. Wholesalers are “sitting with that inventory and are paying storage charges and interest charges to their banks,” Sirkus said.
“The storage charges in metropolitan New York are very high,” Sirkus said.
And within the past few weeks, a growing number of New York City restaurants have announced their permanent closures.
While Premium’s business is “off,” the company is still thriving because it sells frozen seafood to a large variety of wholesalers, Sirkus said.
“We are able to sell to markets and people paying top-dollar to get what they want,” he said.
Even in states where restaurants are reopening dining rooms, many Americans are still not comfortable dining out. In a recent Acosta survey, only 12 percent of consumers said they plan to dine in a restaurant immediately, while 20 percent plan to do so within a few weeks.
Sixty-eight percent said they plan to wait a month or longer to dine in a restaurant.
Older shoppers are more concerned about dining out. Of shoppers waiting to dine out, 58 percent are millennials, 70 percent are Gen X, and 76 percent are Baby Boomers.
Millenials are most concerned about COVID-19 in general, Acosta found. Fifty percent of millennials are more uneasy now than they were at the beginning of the pandemic, they survey said, compared to 57 percent of Gen Xers, who said they were just as concerned as they were at the start of the pandemic.
As restaurants and seafood suppliers, distributors, and wholesalers struggle, many employees have been laid off. A petition being circulated by progressive group MoveOn, which has been signed by more than one million people, is calling on Congress to extend COVID-19 emergency unemployment funding through the end of the year.
Photo courtesy of Kit LL/Shutterstock