On Wildfire Smoke Closing Restaurants and Where the Hospitality Industry Will Be in Five Years

The Intelligence Brief is our weekly compendium of food and drink news sourced from outlets all over the world, including right here at home.

Friday came with news of another record number of new cases of Covid-19 in a 24 hour period in the province. Yes, despite repeated warnings and words of caution from Dr. Bonnie Henry, the case count continue to rise. Health officials are now encouraging residents to reduce their bubbles back down to a maximum of 6 regular contacts and avoid large gatherings altogether. As the province anxiously waits to see what the fall and winter months will mean for the pandemic, we continue to follow how the restaurant industry is fairing through the ongoing uncertainty…

In an effort to curb new cases, the government announced new restrictions across the province this past week which include the closure of nightclubs and banquet halls as well as prohibiting the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants past 10pm.

Many restaurant owners are upset about the new regulations and raising concerns that the restrictions could have dire consequences for an already struggling industry.

Many of those fears are founded! The pandemic continues to take a serious toll, resulting in permanent closures across the city.  Sadly, this past week came with the news that Gastown’s Metropole would be closing its doors for good.

Tap and Barrel’s Olympic Village location announced a temporary closure due to a potential exposure event after one of their staff tested positive for Covid-19. They have since reopened.

While the T&B closure was voluntary, the health authority continues to mandate closures for restaurants they find to be in violation of current Covid-19 protocols.

More cause for concern: a recent study out of the American CDC has found that adults who tested positive for Covid-19 were twice as likely to have dined at a restaurant.

“The researchers asked each participant about their activities in the two weeks before they went to get tested, and both groups — those who tested positive and those who tested negative — reported going to church, the gym and stores. The main difference came in those who said they had recently dined at a restaurant, had drinks at a bar or gone to a coffee shop.”

It’s no wonder, then, that as New York restaurants move towards opening for indoor dining by the end of the month industry staff are expressing serious concerns for their safety.

Meanwhile, the meatpacking industry seems to be getting off with no more than a slap on the wrist for their flagrant disregard for the safety of their workers during this pandemic.

Six months in and we’re finally getting answers as to why there was such a huge grocery shortage in the early months of the pandemic.

“Now it turns out, according to this story in Slate, that there wasn’t a lack of flour, yeast, pasta, etc. after all. Instead, all the shortages were due to a lack of packaging. Because when you buy five pounds of flour, you don’t just buy five pounds of flour. You also buy the paper sack the flour comes in.”

While a number of states in the US are cancelling trick-or-treating outright, Dr. Bonnie Henry is saying Halloween in BC is still a go as long as we take necessary precautions.

As the pandemic has forced the industry to grapple with some glaring and widespread issues, including pay inequities, US Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden has made a pledge to end the tipped minimum wage if he wins the vote in November.

And speaking of much needed changes, Eater asked 23 leaders in the food industry to imagine what restaurants could look like in five years if efforts to rebuild account for current precarities and toxic work environments.

“We need to totally redesign the way we think about service and compensation. I would love it if there was a world where all of the porters and dishwashers had health insurance. If we could just get the diner accustomed to what that actually looks like, in terms of menu prices. Dining out ethically means you’re going to be paying a lot more than you ever thought you would. There are hidden costs to that hamburger. That unpaid, invisible labor. I want to see a world where working at a restaurant is given respect and you get health insurance and you make a living wage.”

In follow-up to the news that this year’s James Beard Awards were cancelled, Eater goes behind the scenes to find out why the decision was made in the first place (it has far less to do with the pandemic than you think).

It may also be worth noting that, despite the fact that the foundation bears his name, James Beard himself would likely have taken issue with the awards altogether.

“Beard spent his life urging us to kick down the barriers — of class and geography, and the manipulations of a food media run by mega companies or a small circle of Manhattan elites — that kept many Americans from knowing the pleasures of food and drink. In his life, James Beard pushed a progressive, anti-elitist message about food.”

Finally, as if a global pandemic weren’t enough, the Bay area is now seeing restaurant closures due to poor air quality as wildfires rage along the west coast.

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