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Fast Food Restaurants

The Biggest Restaurant Chain Winners And Losers Of The Pandemic

Photo: Elliot Cowand Jr // Shutterstock

The COVID-19 pandemic has left much of the restaurant industry devastated. Numerous closures and capacity restrictions left many restaurants struggling, and an alarming amount closed their doors permanently.

Chain restaurants weren’t free from this despite their size, and many took massive hits as well. However, some were able to grow drastically despite the pandemic and are poised to continue to spread and succeed as vaccinations continue.

Nation’s Restaurant News looked at the biggest restaurant chains over the past year and analyzed how much sales each brought in during 2020. Based on the change compared to 2019, they were able to see which chains had the largest percent increases and decreases over the last year.

It should come as no surprise that the leader in the fast food chicken wars, Popeyes, has done really well over the past year. The chain brought in $4.58 billion in sales, netting a whopping 20% increase in money brought in.

The only chain that did better on the list? Wingstop, who posted a 21% increase in sales and netted $1.61 billion. Other spots that did well include the big pizza empires of Domino’s (up 11% to $7.35 billion) and Papa John’s ($3.48 billion, 19% increase).

Photo: Rob Crandall // Shutterstock

As for the chains that got hit hardest, many of them were sit-down restaurants that couldn’t recoup numbers through take out and delivery the ways others could.

These include The Cheesecake Factory, who fell over 28% to $1.53 billion in sales, and IHOP, who lost a quarter of their sales compared to the last year and brought in $2.51 billion.

The biggest loser, however, was Applebee’s, who fell a staggering 31% in sales to $2.78 billion. They definitely still made a lot of money, but losing that much in the long run is going to seriously hurt.

With restaurants starting to reopen, many of the largest losers will likely be trying to recoup lost sales, while the biggest winners could use their revenue to trial new products, go heavy on marketing, or even just grow and expand their empires. They’re coming out of the near end of this pandemic unscathed (or better than before), and will be able to take advantage as a result.

Categories
Food Policy Opinion

Governments Are Doing Nothing To Rescue The Struggling Restaurant Industry

“We’ve listened to all the advice, only to be shut down over and over again and not to be compensated… There’s no science that shows outdoor dining is unsafe! I’m not an asshole, [Governor Gavin Newsom] is.”

The above viral clip from Slapfish owner Andrew Gruel has resonated strongly with restaurant owners around the country. Gruel, whose seafood chain has locations nationwide, is echoing frustrations that governments aren’t doing enough to help restaurants while forcing many in the industry out of business.

Meanwhile, the industry is hurting at an unprecedented level. Data from the National Restaurant Association shows an estimated loss of $215 billion in the last eight months across the restaurant industry nationwide. Over 100,000 restaurants have already closed, and estimates figure that over a third of all restaurants could shut down by June without some sort of relief.

Restaurants have been doing everything governments tell them to do for the most part. They’ve added capabilities for outdoor dining, spending thousands of dollars to do so. Chef Jason Quinn of Southern California’s esteemed Playground, for example, was paying thousands of dollars monthly for a heated tent setup that all got shutdown when outdoor dining was banned.

For many, they feel that banning outdoor dining is a step too far, especially when research has not definitively proven that it leads to a spike in coronavirus cases. Outdoor activities with social distancing are actually encouraged, such as walking in parks or camping, and the CDC does consider outdoor dining to be lower risk than indoor dining as well.

Of course, any form of activity where you come into near contact with others has some level of risk for transmission. The safest thing to do would be to shutter everything, but doing that requires stimulus money paid out to restaurants and businesses. Otherwise, they won’t be reopening once those hypothetical lockdowns end.

“All of this following rules is being predicated on being assisted by the government,” Quinn told Foodbeast.

From local to state to federal level, there has been minimal help for struggling restaurants. Outside of a potential meager stimulus package from the city of Los Angeles and the dimming hope of a restaurant bailout bill passing in Congress, there’s little funding out there to ensure restaurants have the ability to reopen after the current period of pandemic lockdowns.

Congress does have the legislation on hand to help out, with the RESTAURANTS Act potentially providing up to $120 billion in relief. While it has passed the House of Representatives, the Senate has fallen flat in helping out one of the most crucial industries in the country. The bill has yet to even be taken up in legislative sessions there.

Meanwhile, the latest round of bailout funding from Congress doesn’t funnel any money into the restaurant or hospitality industry, leaving owners struggling to survive.

Foodbeast has spoken to several restaurant owners since the latest shutdowns began. While some, including Slapfish, are keeping outdoor dining open, and some are sticking with the government lockdowns, all of them had the same message: Without funding and help, independent restaurants likely won’t last much longer.

“Over the last 10 years, food has become an important part of our culture,” Quinn said. “If we lose all of these small restaurants and just end up with Cheesecake Factories and f**king Arby’s and shit, then we’re gonna have lost a lot of really important work.”

Regardless of whether governments should lock down restaurants or open up outdoor dining, they need to be funding restaurants at a level where they can survive, lest the “backbone of the American economy” collapses. They’re currently sitting on their hands and doing little to nothing, meaning that it’s up to us, regular people, through takeout orders and tips and whatever other ways we can support, to help keep these businesses going.

Categories
Food Policy Health

Free Meals Schools Have Been Serving Through The Pandemic Extended Through 2020

One of the major concerns of the coronavirus pandemic is how to get kids the meals they would normally have at school. Some of this was accounted for through districts that have been giving free meals to all children under the age of 18, regardless of eligibility for the free and reduced lunch program.

This was achieved thanks to waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allowed all schools to serve free breakfast and lunch to children. Those waivers end on August 31st, at which point schools would have to start charging for meals and tracking meal debt for those unable to pay again.

However, as the pandemic rages on and the deadlines on those waivers fast approaching, there’s no sign that the government is going to renew or extend those waivers.

Photo: Annie Spratt // Unsplash

According to The Counter, lawmakers asked the USDA on August 14th to extend those regulatory waivers, which would allow schools to continue providing free breakfasts and lunches for students. In a letter dated August 20th, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue stated that he could not honor the request, saying that “the scope of this request is beyond what USDA currently has the authority to implement and would be closer to a universal school meals program which Congress has not authorized or funded.”

The initial waivers were funded by the Families First Coronavirus Act, one of the early rounds of funding passed by Congress. However, with current negotiations on any new stimulus packages at an impasse, it’s unclear whether any money will be made available to continue to allow kids to get those meals.

Perdue claims that there are “already opportunities… for children in need,” seemingly suggesting that charities and nonprofits could pick up for where schools had been providing before.

A perspective review paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, published in April 2020, suggests that interruptions of these programs to families in need could hamper households in both the short and long term, decreasing immunity (and increasing the risk to contract diseases) as well as decreasing health and academic performance of children in those households.

Unless the USDA reverses its decision by August 31st and decides to extend those waivers, meals will be distributed under the old free and reduced lunch standards once again. For those who have already been struggling during coronavirus, this could present an even bigger challenge.

If waivers are not extended, families would need to wait until Congress returns from recess and agrees on a coronavirus stimulus package to see if funding could be extended to allow those waivers, and free meals from schools, to continue.

UPDATE: On August 31st, the USDA moved to allow free meals from schools to continue through the end of 2020, as long as funding allows it.

Categories
Drinks Health

NO MASKS, NO SERVICE: Starbucks’ New Rule For Customers Starts July 15th

Starbucks just updated its policies for how the coffee chain plans to continue to serve customers through the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest additions is that the company will introduce a face mask requirement for all customers entering their stores.

The new policy, which goes into effect July 15th, marks a significant change of language from how Starbucks previously approached face masks. Previous language asked customers who came into stores to wear them, but did not require them to have one to gain entry.

Baristas have, and will continue, to wear facial coverings while in stores.

During a time when face masks have been questionably politicized, Starbucks is taking an informed stance on safety recommendations to help limit the spread of COVID-19 while folks are picking up coffee, beverages, and breakfast.

These changes also come as some states have begun to reopen both indoor and outdoor dining, with safety precautions, for customers. However, as COVID-19 cases have resurged across the United States, several areas have re-closed indoor dining operations.

For those who still object to wearing face masks but still want Starbucks, delivery, curbside pickup, and drive-thru orders are alternative options to going inside. This is only available, however, “at select locations where a local government mandate is not in place,” according to the new policy.

Categories
Restaurants

Chuck E. Cheese Files For Bankruptcy In Hopes To Survive The Pandemic

After early reports from the Wall Street Journal that Chuck E. Cheese was looking to file for bankruptcy, the entertainment and restaurant chain has officially done so.

Photo: Mike Mozart on Flickr

A press release from CEC Entertainment, Inc., the parent company to the beloved chain, announced the entry into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. It hopes that in doing so, the company can restructure itself to survive the economic hit that the pandemic has levied.

Chuck E. Cheese had been doing okay before the pandemic, as AP reports that store sales went up 3% during 2019. However, the strain of staying closed during the pandemic was a tough pill to swallow for both Chuck E. Cheese and the restaurant industry in general.

Chuck E. Cheese had begun to reopen locations that were closed due to coronavirus, with 266 currently open and more to follow in the coming weeks. It’s hoped that these locations, plus the others Chuck E. Cheese plans to reopen, will stay that way throughout the bankruptcy process.

Franchised locations of Chuck E. Cheese aren’t affected by the bankruptcy filing.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows Chuck E. Cheese to keep running operations while restructuring its organization and financial model to get back on its feet. However, part of the bankruptcy plan, which is approved by a court, may include liquidating some of the company’s assets. This may mean that stores will close in the future, but it’s possible that won’t be the case.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Chuck E. Cheese was looking for up to $200 million in loans to stay afloat earlier in the month, which may be enough to restructure and prevent store closures. We won’t know if that’s the case for sure, however, until the bankruptcy court approves a final plan that allows Chuck E. Cheese to emerge from bankruptcy.

The hope is, though, that Chuck E. Cheese won’t have to go the way of Souplantation, who closed all of their locations and began liquidating all of their assets earlier this year.

Categories
Features Opinion Restaurants

LA Restaurant Owner Journaled Every Day of the Pandemic And It Is Eye-Opening

HomeState

Briana Valdez is a self-described disciple of the restaurant industry. Every day she lives out the crucial tenet of creating a wonderful dining experience for her customers that goes well beyond just the food. Having spent time at legendary chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Beverly Hills, CA, Valdez soaked up everything she learned on what it takes to run a restaurant  — including maintaining a solid base of integrity for not only customers, but staff as well.

Being from Texas, Valdez had her sights set all along on developing the concept that would become HomeState: a restaurant that would serve as her ode to the Lone Star state’s cuisine. First opened back in December 2013, HomeState has since carved itself into the Los Angeles dining scene by serving up distinctive and memorable Texas staples like queso, brisket sandwiches, Frito pies, and crave-worthy breakfast tacos. Her first customer was her mother. Her second? “[He] was a guy who had just moved from San Antonio a few months before. He still comes in a few times a week and has become a good friend,” recalled Valdez. She continued, “He credits HomeState with staving off homesickness and giving him community.”

Growing to three busy locations across the Los Angeles area, HomeState — and as a whole, the city’s robust dining scene — was thriving. That is, all up until just a month ago. The beginning of March was a precipice that the restaurant industry stood at before the COVID-19 pandemic shoved it into a downward spiral of survival, uncertainty, and upheaval. Restaurants have since had to maneuver through a mishmash of mandates that have forced them to either close indefinitely or turn to new business models and operations as a stopgap to the loss of revenue. What’s more, countless jobs in the industry have been lost, leading to a perplexity and lack of confidence in how the recovery will be.

In the state of California alone, the California Restaurant Association was the second largest private employer, with as much as 1.4 million individuals employed, pre-pandemic. And within that astounding number of people, small businesses and those that keep them running were dealt a piercing blow.

briana valdez homestate

For Valdez, the precarious state of the restaurant industry just as the COVID-19 crisis was hitting the U.S. became something she couldn’t ignore. She began journaling and documenting the series of events that have unfolded for her business throughout the pandemic, from pre-quarantine up until recently. Even before Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s executive order to temporarily shut down bars, nightclubs, restaurants (except takeout and delivery), entertainment venues, and other establishments on the evening of March 15th, she knew she had to take preemptive action to anticipate just how drastic the coronavirus concerns were going to affect her business.

And it was the very integrity that she learned coming up that would be her North Star to steer HomeState through the murkiness of this new reality.

What’s resulted is a staggering and intimate glimpse into how the pandemic has affected her and HomeState. And though this example may be an account through Valdez’s lens, such may be what it has been for other small restaurant owners everywhere trying to stay afloat and navigate their businesses through this health and economic crisis.

Below is Briana Valdez’s account from her journaling.


Friday 3/6/20: We received word that SXSW would be cancelled and began reaching out to local bands to play the following weekend on our patio, like a mini South By in LA. Sounded like a great idea at the time.

Saturday 3/7/20: I had family in town. We spent hours catching up on the patio at HomeState Highland Park. It was crowded and overflowing with laughter and good times. Later that night I went to another crowded fundraiser.

Sunday 3/8/20: HomeState celebrated International Women’s Day on our patio by inviting a group of 25 attendees to a panel filled with the women who run/operate HomeState. Later that day, I went to a big Sunday supper at a friend’s house, with no less than 20 people.

Tuesday-Wednesday 3/10-20, 3/11/20: Letters from other companies were pouring in via social media and email. I wasn’t sure what we could say that would be productive or meaningful. I held off on releasing anything from HomeState.

Thursday 3/12/20: With some action items in place we sent a newsletter to our guests notifying them of changes to our operation including elimination of all communal items, free delivery, and curbside pickup.

Thursday 3/12/20: Evening into night I started reading more about the rates of spread and the importance of acting quickly. I couldn’t sleep.

Friday 3/13/20, 3:00am: I couldn’t shake the urgency to do something drastic, like close our three restaurants, in order to keep our teams and community safe. It felt crazy. I came into the office at 7 am, and couldn’t get there fast enough. When our team arrived, I shared my concerns and the conviction to close the restaurants to the public. Thankfully, everyone backed the idea 100% and sprung into action. We decided to close to the public at 2pm that day. That left little time to notify guests or our team. I knew communication would be key to pulling this off quickly, orderly, and with our team’s morale intact. I had to notify our mgmt team, our 150 team members, our investors, and vendors, and most importantly, our guests.
    – 1:30 pm: We had a crowded dining room finishing their lunch. It was raining outside. We posted signs on the front windows saying “To reduce the spread of COVID-19, we are serving our guests via delivery + to-go only. Thank you for understanding.” We allowed guests to finish their meals and kindly prevented additional guests from entering. As we let our team members know the plan, some were relieved, others were scared, others cried. I related to them all.
    – 2:00pm: We locked the doors at both locations and immediately pivoted to curbside pick-up and delivery only. I believe no other restaurant in LA had closed their dining rooms. 

Saturday 3/14/20: First full day with closed dining rooms. It was raining. We had team members outside wearing gloves and using walkie talkies to communicate with team members inside to avoid contact as much as possible. We were trying to figure it out but knew that we had made the right decision to close the dining rooms.

Sunday 3/15/20: Governor Newsom and Mayor Garcetti issued a mandate that all dining rooms close.

Wednesday 3/18/20, 1:00pm: Got on a conference call with fellow chefs and leaders in the hospitality industry to discuss how this impacts us, our employees, and auxiliary vendors and what we can do to mobilize in an effort of support and relief.

Thursday 3/19/20, 8:45pm-1am: Had a roundtable call with the leadership team to discuss pros/cons of keeping stores open for pickup and delivery. What were the risks and benefits to our team members? What were the risks and benefits for our community? The meeting was held on Google Hangouts so we could all see each other. We kept it brutally honest and tried to laugh here and there. Ultimately, we decided what would best serve the overall community was to radically reduce our menu and launch a General Store. This would achieve our overarching goals: 1. Keep our team employed but provide the ability to keep 6’ apart while working. 2. Continue providing food for our community in the form of tacos but ADDING much needed pantry essentials like eggs, flour, milk, butter, and products our vendors were/are still able to provide.

HomeState

Friday 3/20/20: We closed our Playa Vista location and set about planning out the General Store menu and operations. ABC (California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control) announced relaxed regulations allowing us to offer cocktails, beer and wine for pickup and delivery. A big boost to our guests and our ability to generate revenue. Margaritas started flowing the next morning, much to our guests’ delight and appreciation!

Saturday 3/21/20, 8:00am: We launched the first ever HomeState General Store at our Hollywood location, shifting our entire way of doing business and interacting with each other and our guests. It was wild. It was crazy. We got lots of praise and some negative commentary when we started selling toilet paper. We wanted to fill the gap of what was most in demand for the community so we drove an hour to pick up toilet paper from our only vendor who could find any to sell us. Our cost was $2.12 plus the drive. We put it on the menu for $3 and people were outraged, one person even told us that we would “burn in hell.” We all did our best to focus on the positive while continuing the hunt for cheaper toilet paper. We could have just removed it from the offerings but we know people were desperately searching for supply. Thankfully, within a few days, we found a cheaper option and reduced the price to $1. We are learning how to be a grocer minute by minute. Grateful to have found an alternative to closing our doors and laying off our team.
We continue to work with incredible vendors who are a pipeline for much needed goods and have workers to employ as well. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Sunday 3/22/20: We strengthened the General Store model with everything we learned on Day 1. Went MUCH smoother.

HomeState

Monday 3/21/20: Began writing letters to state legislators and local officials about the devastating impact on the hospitality industry at large.

Tuesday 3/24/20: We closed all stores for deep clean, allowed teams to rest while we rolled up our sleeves to get General Store #2 ready in the Highland Park location.

Wednesday 3/25/20: We launched the General Store at Highland Park, offering products like olive oil, whole chickens, ground beef and… MARGARITAS. Can’t make margaritas fast enough. I feel like it’s medicine for the city, helping us all cope.

Friday 3/27/20: Watching live coverage of LA CITY council as they hear from fellow operators. Decisions will be made in the next few days that will have lasting effects on HomeState plus the restaurant industry as a whole, including many of our dear friends. Only time will tell. Now we wait, and keep fighting as hard as we can to survive.

 

Feature Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash
Categories
Health News

Catholic Bishops Permitting Parishioners To Eat Meat During Lent Due To The Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has altered the lives of millions of people drastically. In light of that, some Catholic bishops are saying that their faithful have given up enough, and are issuing statements saying that churchgoers don’t need to follow the usual “no meat on Fridays” rule of Lent.

While the actual practice of Lent differs between branches of Christianity, in Catholicism it involves giving something up for the 40-day period, plus not eating meat on Fridays. According to NBC, several Catholic bishops are alleviating that restriction for multiple reasons. Some are saying that it’s because folks are giving up “many other sacrifices” as is during the pandemic, while others refer to the fact that searching for certain types of food (ie. meat-free) has become hard given the current state of grocery stores.

I can personally speak to the struggle of finding meat-free foods at this time. As a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, I abstain from all meat, dairy, and fish products during the Lenten period. This has been extremely difficult this year, given that when I do go shopping, many stores are very low on stock or completely out of vegan products, including tofu, vegan meats, beans, and other substitutes I rely on during this time annually.

While these announcements may come as a welcome reprieve for some, particularly those struggling to find meat-free foods, not all members of the Catholic Church are on board with the idea. Some have taken to Twitter disagreeing with the decision, saying that they’ve already been denied other parts of the faith, like being able to congregate or partake in Holy Communion, during the pandemic.

“Why are we assumed to be so weak?” reads a tweet from one disapproving member. “Elijah, the prophets, and the saints would spit on us.”

Categories
Cravings Food Trends Humor Now Trending Sweets

Hilarious Toilet Paper Cakes Are Now A Thing

toilet paper cake

Photo: @asap_dombroski

Due to recent overzealous hoarding during the covid-19 pandemic, toilet paper has been a rare find at the store these days — unless you look in the baked goods section. That’s because toilet paper-themed cakes have now begun to pop up at various groceries and bakeries everywhere.

The cheeky cakes have been spotted at Albertson’s locations in Southern California as well as a ShopRite supermarket in New Jersey. Bakeshops are also getting in on the trend, with spots like B.Candy in Corona Del Mar, CA making toilet paper mini cakes and Two Fat Cookies in Delray Beach, FL serving up toilet paper cupcakes.

“Our toilet paper cupcakes sold out like wildfire,” gushed Two Fat Cookies.

I guess even toilet paper cakes are getting snatched off of shelves with the quickness, too, then. Hopefully the re-stock will be a lot quicker than the real ones.

Spotted: Toilet Paper Cakes at an Albertson’s in Orange County, CA

With the pandemic gravely affecting business for many small establishments in the restaurant industry, many have had to get creative to stay afloat. In this case, these shops are offering some levity to the situation, because in these uncertain times, humor can go a long way to keep spirits encouraged.

 

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Photos: @bcandy_oc, @twofatcookies