Cost of COVID: Macon restaurants fight to stay afloat

Two local restaurants have faced an uncertain future this year, and they continue adapting as things change weekly

MACON, Ga. — 13WMAZ, GPB Macon, the Telegraph and Mercer’s Center for Collaborative Journalism will continue to report on how coronavirus has impacted our lives, and the price we all pay in a series titled ‘Cost of COVID.’

From upscale dining to fast food, COVID-19 has forced restaurants to change the way they do business.

According to QSR, a leading restaurant industry magazine, U.S. restaurants have lost $120 billion this year.

For the restaurant industry, the cost of COVID-19 has been astronomical.
Cooks and waitstaff were left jobless, and some restaurant owners are afraid if things get worse, they may have to close their doors forever.

“If there was another closure, I don’t – I wouldn’t be able to reopen,” said owner of Louisiana-inspired restaurant Parish, Chrissy Lee.

Lee explained how things went from bad to worse during the height of COVID-19.

“You’re charging every credit card and calling to get things maxed out and raised your limits and I’ve never experienced this in my life,” she said. 

Like other restaurant owners, Lee ultimately had to close down for months under a statewide mandate.

Misty Lamb was bartending at the restaurant at the time. Even with unemployment, she says she took about a $200-300/week pay cut. Lamb says she wasn’t expecting the financial and mental strain that came next.

“I’m a very strong independent woman and I do for myself,” she said. “I’ve always tried to do for myself and my son, who’s 19. And it just hit, a depression hits in, and you can’t explain it.”

Kinjo Kitchen was just preparing to open its doors for business when the pandemic hit. Co-owner Chelsea Hughes says the grand opening wasn’t what they hoped. 

“Opening up and then having over 100 reservations in two days that you then have to turn around and cancel,” Hughes said. “Nobody can spend money on alcohol or curbside so yeah, we absolutely lost the potential to earn a lot of money.”

Hughes was able to recover some of the lost income with a quick pivot from dining room seating to curbside pick-up, but even that was far from easy. 

She says labor costs, food costs and liquor costs are all skewed because they are basically operating at half capacity, and walk-ins aren’t what they should be.

With the future uncertain, both Macon restaurants are doing whatever they can to survive the pandemic.

“It’s month to month; it’s week by week,” Hughes said. “We are trying to stay as proactive as we can, social media wise. We’re trying to come up with creative ways to invite people into our space, that make them still feel comfortable in a dining room.”

Lamb says she’s staying connected with her customers.

“I do miss my customers and I have stayed in contact with the majority of them and they can’t wait for me to come back,” she said.

With unemployment and the CARES act passed by congress earlier this year, many people working in the restaurant industry received financial assistance to stay afloat through some of the hardest hit times of the pandemic.

If you want more information, or to keep up with local restaurants you can go to the ‘Save our Macon Restaurants’ Facebook page.

MORE INFO: What is the ‘Cost of COVID’? | Ongoing series to highlight impact of pandemic on Central Georgia

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