Fritz Brogan is co-founder and managing partner of Mission Group, a D.C.-based bar and restaurant group.

At the end of a difficult shift, bar and restaurant workers commiserate together over a time-honored hospitality tradition: the shift drink. And 2020 gave the industry a whole host of unforeseen problems over which to commiserate. It’s a resilient industry, going to battle nightly to face everything from fires to floods to mercurial customers. However, even the most hardened restaurateur faced a difficult 2020 as the coronavirus ravaged the industry.

I am co-owner of four D.C. bars and restaurants — Mission Navy Yard, Mission Dupont, the Admiral and Hawthorne — that have faced numerous challenges during the pandemic. I consider myself lucky as I’m blessed with an incredible team, loyal guests and landlords and vendors who have worked with us to make the best of a difficult situation. Whenever I tell a new acquaintance what I do for a living, the invariable first comment is how hard a business it must be. However, little do they know that if you can serve or bartend or cook or otherwise work a chaotic shift at a busy restaurant, everything else in life will seem easy by comparison.

As 2021 begins, our industry is concerned. Businesses worry how to provide for their staffs and keep everyone safe. Our venues were designed to encourage people to talk loudly, make new friends, dance, cheer on big games and have fun in large groups — all things that are currently unwise. Increasingly powerful delivery apps are muscling in and taking unfair commissions. Despite a literal interruption of business, business interruption insurance turned out to be worthless. Local, state and federal governments constantly change policies and health code regulations, often with little thought on how it will actually affect businesses. Though local grants and the Paycheck Protection Program have been helpful, tariffs on imported products remain high and other legislation, such as the recent change that allows the tax deduction of dining expense, is at best a minor benefit. The cost of everything is increasing, and businesses are striving to find a way to fairly compensate labor while squeezing an already precarious bottom line.

There have been a few silver linings to the current crisis. Outdated alcohol laws, most seemingly to have come straight from the Prohibition era, have loosened, allowing businesses to provide to-go and delivery cocktails. Digital menus and payment options have rapidly changed the technology of the industry. Menus have been reimagined, and ghost kitchens allow additional exciting revenue streams.

Another benefit has been the team effort of owners, chefs, servers and other hospitality professionals. Businesses that once competed over customers, personnel and lease deals now strategize together as a coalition on how to pivot all aspects of the industry. I confer regularly with others on everything from how to procure outdoor heaters and personal protective equipment to how best to operate takeout and delivery. We’re all in this together as we navigate new regulations and realities.

There is nothing like the energy in a crowded bar as happy people enjoy themselves while forgetting about the problems of their life or celebrating with friends. The thrill of creating that atmosphere is why I ventured into this business. I’m an optimist and believe that the industry will come back bigger and stronger than ever. But to get there, we need help — help from the government, help from landlords and help from loyal customers to support us.

When it’s all over, maybe you can join us for a shift drink.

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