One of about 100 co-workers who were laid off, she started a fundraising campaign and reached out to the community for support. She said people in the restaurant business couldn’t wait for relief to come from elsewhere, and she hopes to funnel at least $100 to each worker who asks for help.
“Your place of employment is more your home than where you’re laying your head down to go to sleep,” Trupti said. “It’s just been such a surreal experience to see how an event like this could decimate an entire segment of the economy so rapidly.”
Patel’s effort is one of many in the Washington region aimed at supporting restaurant workers during the economic catastrophe wrought by the coronavirus. While some establishments have pivoted to carryout and delivery, others have closed, leaving workers, patrons and advocates to think creatively about ways to ensure there are still kitchens and bars to return to when the virus retreats.
In addition to the GoFundMe campaigns, informal requests for financial help and virtual tip jars, there are official avenues for relief. Applications for the District’s small-business recovery “microgrants,” part of a $25 million city program offering grants up to $25,000, are being accepted through Tuesday evening.
John Falcicchio, the District’s interim deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said the grants were designed as a “low-barrier” program to get cash to struggling businesses.
“We know how stressed our business community is right now,” he said. “We know how much they’re hurting. We don’t know this one program will be enough.”
Kristen Barden, executive director of the Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District, a nonprofit organization in a D.C. neighborhood known for its nightlife, said $25 million is “not going to go that far.”
To supplement funds from the city’s program, the BID launched a “restaurant bonds” program it modeled after war bonds during the world wars. The organization doesn’t collect money but encourages diners to buy gift cards from establishments. If a business is closed, patrons can redeem them when it reopens.
“This is a time when creativity is of super high importance,” Barden said. “We’re doing whatever we can to help businesses stay afloat.”
Experts say plummeting sales could deal a fatal blow to many restaurants.
David Henkes, a senior principal at food-service industry analysis firm Technomic, estimated that up to 27 percent of restaurants’ annual sales could be lost nationally if coronavirus-related closures stretch into summer. While restaurants with takeout options could lose about 19 percent of their business, he said, full-service establishments without takeout could lose 35 percent.
“It’s not great — that’s an understatement,” he said. “Part of the challenge is that, in the short term, it’s devastating.”
Some eateries are trying to stay open, even if it means financial losses in the short term.
John Fisher, the North American chief executive of Nando’s Peri-Peri Chicken — a chain restaurant with 30 locations in the Washington region — transitioned to takeout and delivery, offering thousands of free meals to health-care workers and unemployed hospitality workers.
“The world has turned completely upside-down,” Fisher said. “Let’s take care of people. Let’s take care of each other.”
Danny Lee, owner of Mandu and other Korean restaurants in the District, said each establishment has to weigh tough decisions when deciding whether to shift to delivery or close. He elected to keep Mandu open with “contactless” delivery, in which customers can scan an order into their phones from a menu using QR codes.
Lee said the decision to stay open wasn’t easy. Some food doesn’t travel well, and eateries used to spacing out reservations might not be at their best with a rush of takeout orders at dinnertime.
“It’s not just as easy as taking your current menu and putting it in a box,” he said.
Lee said he’s concerned about business owners who might not have the technical know-how or language skills to complete grant applications and access other forms of government financial assistance.
In a widely shared Facebook post, Lee said he printed out paperwork on the city’s microgrant program and visited a bodega whose owners aren’t native English speakers. Though he’s not a great Korean speaker himself, he said, he talked them through the process as best he could.
He’s not sure whether they will apply for a grant, he said, but at least they know about the option.
“No one is going to come out of this great, but if you’re going to come out of this period at all . . . it’s your duty to help other people try to do the same,” he said.
As the coronavirus began to ravage the local restaurant industry, a “virtual tip jar” — a spreadsheet where servers and bartenders list their names, note whether they have dependents or health insurance, and provide a remote payment method — began to circulate online. As of Monday, the document contained the names of more than 4,100 workers.
Mutual-aid networks have also sprung up elsewhere in the region. One online campaign in Montgomery County sought donations for county restaurants to deliver meals to health-care workers at Holy Cross Hospital.
Some shuttered businesses, meanwhile, are asking former — and, hopefully, future — patrons to help laid-off employees directly.
Ed Bailey, co-owner of D.C. bars Number Nine and Trade, said it’s necessary to remind people on every social media platform that there’s a crisis in the industry. Bailey posted photos of his staff members on his businesses’ doors along with a way to pay them.
Bailey said he’s doing all he can to keep 60 employees afloat, including live-streaming drag shows — with no more than six people socially distancing themselves in one establishment at a time for broadcasting purposes — during which viewers can pay performers from afar.
“Everyone has their own situation right now,” he said. “Everyone is obviously not concerned with every other person at this moment unless you poke them a little bit.”