Warning: Restaurant Ahead

July 8, 2020 6:00am
By Jill Melton
Edible Correspondent

Retreating to our home kitchens.

Necessity is the mother of invention. And inventive we have become as virtually everyone in the hospitality business has pivoted to stay afloat. Serving has been minimized; Menus have been relocated to mobile devices; Seating has been spread out. But will it be enough? 

The overwhelming majority of respondents (25) believe that 25% of restaurants won’t make it through the pandemic. With 5,500 restaurants in Nashville at last count (Nashville Business Journal 2016), that’s more than 1,000 restaurants—and a lot of hospitality fall out, displacing chefs, cooks, managers, servers, bartenders, and dishwashers.

Caterers have gotten into the restaurant biz, supplying meals to consumers (The Daily Dish, TennesSweet Food Co., etc.) to compensate for the lack of events. Restaurants have turned to family meals to-go. Nashville Grown, the biggest supplier of local produce to restaurants, started distributing "Ag Bags" to consumers at farmer’s markets. And everyone is turning to local. The Daily Dish, Café Roze, Nectar: Urban Cantina and others transformed part of their spaces into local markets. Restaurants like Rolf & Daughters are supplying farm boxes and grocery products. 

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However, according to our Power Poll, we’re trying our hardest to keep restaurants in business. 39% have already been to restaurants (from the date of this survey on June 6th) with 54% saying they’ll wait for a month or two when things feel safer. But with COVID cases soaring in Nashville and around the country, it will more likely be 2, 3, or even 4 months. To help folks feel safer, restaurants are creating outdoor spaces, serving where they’ve never served before, including sidewalks and parking lots. But as COVID spreads, more restaurants will be challenged with how to keep staff and customers safe and COVID free. 

While 39% of us are going out to eat, we’re not quite ready to gather at a small dinner event. 20 respondents or 51% won’t be ready to gather until October or next year. This is in contrast to a poll we did on Instagram (@ediblenash) in June where we asked who would be interested in attending a small 25-person farm dinner, which was overwhelmingly positive with 100 folks saying yes. As a result, we have 2 mini farm dinners planned and sold out in July. These will take place at The Farm and Fiddle in Santa Fe, TN.         


Regarding eating at home, 33 or 85% of respondents said their grocery habits have changed. 18 or 58% are shopping at farmer’s markets more. CSAs are sold out and online sales are through the roof as many farmers hustled to get online stores set up.  Local beef, pork, and chicken are frequently selling out according to farmer Brian Whitaker of Whitaker Farms in Gallatin. Many farms have set up farm stores on their properties. Sure, this has been trending for a couple years, but COVID-19 has accelerated the trend. Hank Delvin of Delvin Family Farms told us that sales at his 2 year-old store on his farm in College Grove is doing fantastic. Berry picking is up with record crowds and lines at orchards and markets around town. Tony Foster at Blue Honey Farms who sells local blueberries, has had more people picking in the first 2 weeks of this year than the entirety of last year. Oddly enough, a lot of that is coming from out-of-towners or folks who have just moved here. Says Tony, “They don’t know what to do.” 

We can't help but be happy to see folks eating locally, supporting farmers and keeping money in the local economy. We just wish it hadn't taken a pandemic to make that happen. As COVID trudges on, there will no doubt be many more inventions ahead. 


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