RapidChat: Chris Minarik on COVID-19's inevitable impact upon the restaurant industry

Amongst the chaos of COVID-19, Chris Minarik, Assistant General Manager of Westside Social Tavern, discusses the impact the government mandated shutdown has not only had on staff, but his own personal life..
Rapid Growth: How was the news delivered to you that Michigan bars and restaurants were ordered to close on Monday for COVID-19 concerns?

Chris Minarik: Sunday night was when I first heard about the closures. Our team learned that that the government was doing a 50% shutdown—which would have been ideal if it stayed that way since we had already placed shipments for the week.

RG: So far, how has this impacted your daily life?

CM: I don’t have a job, I am applying for unemployment, and I was told my insurance could possibly run out by the end of the month. Rent is still due; nothing is changing. 

RG: Do you plan to find a supplemental job in the meantime?

CM: I know that the job is waiting … it's not like I lost my job due to economic hardship. Maybe I will look for something on the side to have a little bit more income. But if unemployment is going to take care of me, I will ride it out.

RG: What feedback have you been receiving from employees?

CM: I was handing out paychecks today and it was a 50/50 kind of vibe. Half of our staff is understanding of the fact that this may be for the long haul. The other half doesn’t realize that in two weeks there is a probability of us not going back to work. With that being said, nobody is angry and nobody is mad. They understand why this is happening.

RG: What are they doing to support themselves in the meantime?

CM: I think some people are trying to pick up side jobs. But overall, I’ve been telling people to file for unemployment. This is a government-mandated shutdown, so most of us are waiting on them to provide feedback on what to do next. My hope is that they pause the bills and loans we’re still expected to pay. They’re the ones who shut us down; they can’t expect us to keep paying. 

RG: Is there anything the restaurant is doing to help alleviate this burden from staff?

CM: We’re going through our coolers of perishable items and giving as much as we can to our employees.

RG: What has you convinced that the shutdown will be longer?

CM: I don’t think that enough of other businesses are taking it as seriously as others. Factories haven’t been mandated to close and they employ hundreds to thousands of people that see each other every day; Yet the government is concerned with 150 people at a restaurant. I think more businesses need to be shut down to see an actual reduction in the arc of people getting infected. Other states have committed to shutting down businesses for a couple of months already, as well.

RG: What sort of long-term impact do you think this will have on the restaurant industry?

CM: I think if the government doesn’t step in and offer relief, some restaurants will not recover. It’s not because they aren’t successful or they aren’t great restaurants. It’s because of the debt and loans that need to be paid, and how thin the margins are.

RG: What are your thoughts on the discussed bailouts for other industries?

CM: Well, there is not going to be a bailout for the restaurant industry. So if people are trying to collect money and move forward, while everyone else is still stuck, that’s going to inevitably set everyone back.

RG: Do you see this quarantine changing the restaurant business model and wage structure in the future?

CM: Yes, I think for sure that paid sick days should be considered. Because if people knew that they were going to get sick—and they could take the three to five days off—they would definitely do it. Instead, we have staff coming in because they need to and getting everyone else sick. 

RG: Do you think people are going to be afraid to go back into the industry?

CM: If it’s longer than a month, I do think people will start to reconsider their career. If this industry is your life, there are only so many options you have. 

Jenna K. Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media - a solutions journalism magazine.
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