The virus pandemic gripping the nation is slamming the restaurant industry after years of steady growth amid the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.

Restaurants and bars face a catastrophic loss of revenue that could destroy countless operations across that nation as customers stay home and practice “social distancing” to stem the spread of the virus. The industry isn’t alone in feeling pain from the economic hit as the U.S. heads into a likely recession, but it is particularly reliant on people going out and congregating.

“Our greatest strength makes us the most vulnerable, we are the most social-facing industry in this country,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs at the National Restaurant Association.

Many in the industry have been left without solid answers as to how deep the pandemic’s impact will go.

National chains’ stock prices have plummeted. Smaller and more local operations are doing their best to switch to “take-out” models to stay alive, but most have had to lay off or furlough staff and don’t know if there will be a business left for employees to return to.

Restaurants and bars benefited greatly from the U.S.’s decade-long economic expansion. In turn, they helped fuel that growth as a key part of the overall services sector, which accounts for the bulk of the U.S. economy.


The loss of customers for an indefinite amount of time is particularly painful for restaurants, which operate on tight margins even in good times.

“For many restaurants cash flow is measured in weeks, not months,” Kennedy said. “For some, it’s in days.

Operations both large and small are staring into a sales void with no idea how long the virus pandemic will endure and force them to keep their doors shut to hungry customers.

The industry has been asking for help on several fronts to ride out the downturn, along with assistance for their employees while they remain out of work.

The National Restaurant Association, which represents more than 380,000 restaurants, says a broad series of measures are necessary in order for a recovery to eventually happen. It’s asking for debt deferments, recovery and loan programs, block grants, and disaster unemployment assistance.

“Our goal at this point is not to be profitable, our goal is to simply to survive,” Kennedy said. “If we don’t have access to insurance for this or incoming revenue from customers, or support from the government, restaurants will be closing up shop altogether and handing the keys to the bank.”