( Photo courtesy Tim York )

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The world as we know it has changed, perhaps indefinitely, as industries across the country and globe are coming to terms with the new realities born as a result of the coronavirus COVID-19. 

Foodservice is one of the many sectors feeling the almost immediate impact, as regions are issuing shelter-in-place advisories limiting contact with others and thus keeping people out of restaurants, coffee shops and other foodservice establishments. 

Even those people willing to brave the great outdoors in search of a meal may have to do so on-the-go, as counties put restrictions on restaurants prohibiting dine-in options.  

Restaurants once worried about things like sustainability, plastic reduction, the Instagram effect or any number of issues are now worried about something much more critical: survival. Many chefs, cooks, hostesses and servers received their last paycheck for an indefinite amount of time. Cash tips too are no longer coming in. 

Institutional foodservice programs, like those in schools that provide a critical safety net for hungry students, have ceased in the traditional manner, leaving administrators to figure out new ways to get healthy foods to students who may otherwise go hungry. 

Food banks too are preparing for an influx of people whose pocketbooks may not enable them to obtain food at the grocery store or online. 

To appreciate the impact the shuttering of restaurants will have, consider these industry facts:

  • U.S. restaurants number over 1 million;
  • Restaurant sales are estimated at $899 billion for 2020;
  • The restaurant industry’s share of the food dollar is 51%;
  • The restaurant industry employs 15.6 million people;
  • Restaurants are the top employers of teenagers, and more women and minorities are in management positions than any other industry; and
  • More than 70% of restaurants are single-unit operations.

Produce grower/shippers are likely already feeling a reduction in orders. Sadly, this will continue. As the government considers assistance programs for small businesses, companies like Uber Eats are looking at new models to connect people with foodservice. The company recently heeded the need to assist independent restaurants and is waiving the delivery fee for all independents. Consumers will still pay a 15% service fee, but the regular service fee charged to restaurants will be waived. 

While I applaud the effort, the reality is that more needs to be done to help restaurants that may be circling the drain. 

This column’s core purpose is to focus on foodservice, but I certainly recognize the impacts of the virus stem well beyond foodservice operators. I’ve often thought people overuse the word unprecedented. Now is not one of those times. 

What we are dealing with is, in fact, unprecedented. 

At this point, solutions are unclear and uncertainty runs deep. And while it can be easy to get discouraged, I believe in the long-term resilience of the food system and the important role of produce growers and packers in bringing healthy foods to market. 

For that reason, we need to all keep our chins up. Do what we can. Support each other, and take precautionary measures to keep ourselves, our families, our workplaces and our communities safe. 

Tim York is CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative.

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