It was closing time Friday, in more ways than one. Governor Tim Walz’s new COVID-19 restrictions took effect at 11:59 p.m., but of course just over one week ago the state put in a 10 p.m. “last call” time. So restaurants, tap rooms, and bars are all closed to not just indoor dining, but outdoor dining as well.
A four-week pause can be both the right thing to do for public health AND awful, tragic, and devastating to our friends who work in hospitality and the business owners. Many of whom just spent a lot of money buying outdoor heaters and tents and fire pits to try to create an outdoor dining experience. They also spent a lot of money on inventory—food and beer that will largely be thrown out because a keg isn’t going to last for four weeks without pouring a beer.
The federal government doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to pass stimulus or relief to help restaurants (or any other small businesses), and the state of Minnesota isn’t really in a financial position to make a huge impact here. The industry is too big: the Restaurant Association says there are about 275,000 restaurant and foodservice workers in the state. Just to give each one of them $1,000, you’re looking at $275 million. Most of us who love restaurants will do our best again to get out and support them.
What can you do?
- Order Thanksgiving takeout. I have a massive list, that includes spots for pie and dessert.
- Try to takeout food at least once a week, be patient and tip well. Your order will get messed up occasionally, restaurants will run out of things, they’re doing their best but we’ve lost some of the grace and understanding that we were sharing early on.
- Order directly from the restaurant instead of third-party delivery services. That way, restaurants keep more of the cash. If you use UberEats or DoorDash, tip those drivers— for real.
- Order gift cards for Christmas and Hanukkah gifts. I’m working on creating a list of them (here’s my draft document).
- Donate to charities including The North Stands (which supports restaurant workers) and Minnesota Central Kitchen (a Second Harvest Heartland initiative using restaurant employees and kitchens to create meals for those in need)
- Advocate for policies you think would make a real difference
Note: I’m not in the business of telling people which policies to advocate for, but I think any human would agree that the lack of action by Congress to help small businesses is criminal. Decide which party you want to blame, or which leaders, and call your Congresspeople.
Locally, there are things that could be done to make an impact on the industry, too. Should restaurants be allowed to sell cocktails to-go to boost their check averages and help them keep another one or two people employed? What about growlers or crowlers of beer, so they don’t have to toss out spoiled keg beer? Other states have taken action here, but Minnesota has not yet.
- Help a friend find a job: There are places hiring during all of this. We have a list at WCCO, and the local foodservice provider Taher is hiring at their bakery and their commissary kitchen.
While everything around COVID has gotten politicized and heated and angry, you know how much small restaurants and businesses make our community special—no matter what your politics are. Let’s do our part to make sure closing time tonight isn’t closing time for good.