“2020 was an unprecedented year for the restaurant industry.” Something we’ve all heard endlessly. But it doesn’t really capture the impact.
A recent study by the National Restaurant Association does. It showed that 17% of all U.S. restaurants closed last year, more than 110,000 establishments. The permanently closed restaurants had been in business an average of 16 years, and 16% had been open for 30 years or more! These were successful restaurants.
Those same trends played out in Charlotte, where we lost long-time favorites like Carpe Diem, Bill Spoon’s BBQ, Nova’s Bakery, The Wooden Vine and Yama Izakaya. Newer eateries closed, too, including La Belle Helene, which we designed. The Charlotte restaurant scene went from being on fire at the end of 2019 to underwater just a few months later.
2021 doesn’t look much better yet. But there are signs that hope is on the horizon.
First and foremost, the COVID vaccine is getting into arms. More than anything, that will improve the fortunes of our industry.
Hospitality restrictions are easing as COVID metrics improve, allowing bars to offer indoor service and extending the cutoff for alcohol sales in restaurants and bars, a revenue lifeline.
Economists are predicting brighter days for restaurants starting later this year, especially in fast-growing markets like Charlotte.
I’ve been incredibly proud to watch how my partners and friends have survived this strange time, creating new cocktail kits and to-go menus and improving curbside and outdoor experiences.
From where I sit, there’s a ton of pent-up demand from consumers who are ready to eat out again, and an industry waiting for clarity to invest again. Right now, restaurant owners are still hunkered down and holding on, focusing on takeout and keeping staffs small. Long-time players are investing in safe bets by expanding successful eateries to new locations, but only an intrepid few are opening brand-new concepts.
I’m hopeful that as we head into summer and fall, we’ll start to see more new openings, re-openings and refreshes of our favorite restaurants as people get out of their houses.
Ultimately, boom times will return to Charlotte’s restaurant industry. The only question is when. Here’s hoping for soon. In the meantime, I find hope and inspiration from the people who make up Charlotte’s restaurant industry. Their creativity, flexibility and community spirit remain strong.