Stories of Hope in the Restaurant Industry

April 8, 2020 Lynne Levy

4-minute read

retail workerWatch today's "Keeping Work Human" episode featuring three guests from the restaurant industry.

On Saturday nights my husband and I usually treat ourselves to a nice dinner at a local restaurant. For the past few Saturdays, we’ve been hanging out at home eating whatever we can find in the fridge. It has been weeks since we went out for dinner and I’m craving the fish I usually order at Surf in Nashua, N.H. Now when I drive through my community, it reminds me of 9/11 when every restaurant shut down.

Restaurants are an integral part of our community and lives. They provide a way for the community to connect and come together. Eating a wonderful meal is intertwined with family and celebration. When I eat out, I usually see one or two tables celebrating an anniversary, birthday, or graduation.

When I reflect on the moments in my life that happened at restaurants, they range from when my daughter was an infant sitting in her car seat next to me, to the first date I had with my husband. I think of memorable Workhuman dinners where I connected with colleagues in Dublin over a Guinness or a meal at The Cedar Tree.

The restaurant industry has been hit hard by COVID-19, and there is a real danger that a significant number of local food providers will disappear. Yet there are rays of hope where innovation is happening despite the adversity.

Connecting meals with hospital staff

Frontline Foods coordinates and connects meal delivery from local restaurants to hospital staff. Restaurants are only doing delivery and hospital staff are moving at incredible speed, making it challenging to find healthy food. Frontline allows restaurants to keep their team while supporting nurses and doctors. Restaurants and bars may not count as essential services in the face of a shelter-in-place order, but a warm meal can show overworked hospital workers appreciation.

Many in the community are struggling with how to support local restaurants beyond takeout and delivery. One innovative idea is to enable customers to donate meals to hospitals. Sauce Pizzeria in New York has added a “Cheese Pie for Hospital Donation” option to its online ordering.

Giving the community a way to show gratitude to those on the frontline builds connection within a community

Do-it-yourself (DIY) kits

Restaurants are also moving to sell DIY kits. Although research indicates COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through food, many consumers (myself included) are more comfortable cooking their own food. Many families enjoy cooking together, and DIY kits provide the perfect opportunity to assemble a nutritious meal.

Bakeries are even getting into the “keeping children occupied” business. Small-town bakeries across the country, such as Hannah’s Bakery and Cafe in Salem, N.H., are selling cookie-decorating kits for children to enjoy while sheltering in place.

Human-centered leadership

Three-star Michelin restaurant Alinea in Chicago has entirely reimagined their highly acclaimed dining experience – moving from an immersive theatrical food experience to selling to-go comfort food. Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas revealed on Twitter that he created the to-go option as a way to hire back some of his staff. He’s not only looking out for what is best for this business, but also his employees and the broader community.

Consumers using food distributors

Trips to the grocery store have started to feel a little like something out of a movie. Some shelves are bare. The quality of fresh food is declining. I cannot find a good bag of green grapes anywhere.

Distributors, which used to provide quality food to restaurants, are launching home-delivery services. Here in Boston, I signed up for J.W. Lopes delivery, which delivers a box of fresh fruits and vegetables each week. I feel good supporting local farms and distributors, and although it is a bit of splurge, it is also a way for me to show gratitude to those on the frontline of keeping us all fed.


Restaurants are so much more than food. They provide connection and a setting to the moments that matter in our lives. They nurture and sustain our relationships through food. We owe it to our local restaurants to do what we can to help them survive this current crisis.

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About the Author

Lynne Levy

Lynne Levy is a Workhuman evangelist who lives and breathes helping organizations build cultures that bring out the best in the employees. Her mantra is “do what you love, love what you do.”

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