Happy New Year?

We just passed a grim anniversary: one year since COVID shut down Colorado bars and restaurants. What's next?

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Close up of calendar heading reading,
March marked a bleak anniversary. / Copyright: kwangmoo
Smiling woman with long brown hair wearing a blue suit jack and shirt.
Courtesy Katie Lazor

With the one-year mark of COVID behind us, the question remains: Where is the industry left coming out of The Year That Changed Everything?

The truth is, the losses continue to weigh heavy. With each closure, we’ve lost careers, tax revenue, and supply chain support. We’ve lost homes away from home, places where we were seen and cared for, connections to humanity, work families, and part of our cultural identity. 

Despite this, the pivots, and the ongoing hustles, we have not wasted this crisis. We’ve put it all on the table: the good, the bad, and the outright hideous (racism, lack of health insurance, harassment, job insecurity). We’ve depended on each other like never before. The ongoing question: Knowing what we know, how do we rebuild and evolve into a stronger industry?

Employee pay structure—something that was deeply flawed before outright breaking during restrictions—has been a hot topic. Bryan Dayton and his team are currently operating two different models at three restaurants: a tip pool across all hourly workers at Brider (quick service) and a 24 percent service charge at Oak and Corrida. Meanwhile, Restaurant Olivia reopened with a completely new structure called “Hospitality Included” with variable pricing, deposits on reservations, and no tipping. Crafted Concepts implemented a weekly tip pool across all hourly workers (based on hours worked), in addition to the existing front-of-house daily tip pool and surcharge. While there is no one-size-fits-all model for creating more equitable compensation, there’s a lot to learn from operators who experimented.

Another massive consequence of 2020? The growing dependence on food delivery and the resulting growth of those third-party companies. DoorDash lost $667 million in 2019, then went public in 2020 and was valued at $72 billion. In an attempt to help restaurants, dozens of cities around the country, including Denver, passed legislation to temporarily cap delivery fees. But delivery is here to stay, and these temporary caps can only go so far. So local services, like Nosh in Boulder and Fort Collins, have sprung up. They limit fees to 15 percent and offer restaurants an opportunity to buy company shares. Some restaurants, like Big Red F and Potager, have created their own in-house delivery programs in an effort to retain employees, control the customer experience, deliver alcohol, and salvage some margins on delivery. The industry is watching and taking notes.

The new normal cannot and will not look like the old normal. We know this already fragile industry had big changes coming, and COVID-19 sped many of them up. With that, let’s welcome in The Year That Has to Be Better.

Talk to us! Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to askus@diningout.com

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