Wisconsin Restaurant Association says we could lose 50% of our restaurants if restrictions continue past May

The future of restaurants will look very different for the foreseeable future

MADISON, Wis. – The future of restaurants remains at risk. Even when restrictions in the state are lifted, don’t expect your dine-in experience to look like it did before the pandemic.

Wisconsin Restaurant Association (WRA) President and CEO Kristine Hillmer said many restaurants will have plexi glass in between tables, will operate at 50% capacity and will resort to single-use items such as utensils, condiment packets and even menus. Hillmer added that a full-wipe down of tables, booths and chairs will also likely happen in between every customer.

“There will be no self-serve options any time soon and that includes salad bars, buffets, serve your own beverage station, even in a convenience store,” Hillmer said.

The WRA conducted a survey of Wisconsin restaurants in April and found that restaurants have lost more than $630 million in revenue, 44% of restaurants have already temporarily closed, two-thirds of restaurant staff have lost their jobs, and Hillmer estimates, “If we don’t get some sort of opening by the end of May or it goes beyond that, there is a real possibility that half the restaurants could go out of business.”

Hillmer said it is likely that when restaurants do re-open, full-time staff will be given priority to come back to work because they have more flexibility on when they can work during the week.

Hillmer said although many people have resorted to supporting local restaurants through curbside pickup and takeout, the revenues from that only go so far.

“Yes we are seeing long lines. Thank you everybody that is doing Friday night fish fry take out. But that’s one night out of seven,” Hillmer said.

Hillmer added that people who use third-party delivery services like Eat Street, Grubhub, Uber Eats, etc., are actually taking away revenue from the restaurants they are trying to support.

“This has been a chronic problem for restaurants and it’s now coming to light,” Hillmer said. “If you want to support your local restaurant and make sure they are here after the pandemic, you need to contact them directly to order or buy gift certificates. If you order through a third-party app, the restaurant may only get 40% of that. They think they’re doing the restaurant a favor, but when you know you have razor thin margins, you have a 70% decline in sales, and now you have a third-party delivery say, ‘You need to make this food for me. Oh, and by the way, we are only going to pay you 40% of it,’ that’s a problem.”

Hillmer said the same problem comes up when people buy gift cards from third-party sources, and don’t go through the restaurant directly.

“Only a portion of those dollars go back to the restaurant,” she said. “Go directly to the restaurant to buy it. Right now, cash is king. It’s really putting the restaurant at a disadvantage. Sometimes that 40% is not even paying for the food. Don’t call through Yelp, don’t call through Grubhub, don’t call through third parties. Call them directly.”

Hillmer said the most difficult has been thinking about how much the people who work in the hospitality industry have lost.

“The restaurant table is a place for people to sit down and have a communal meal together and it really is something that binds a community together,” she said. “When you lose that, you not only lose a sense of community, you see a ripple effect of all the families it is affecting. Of all the non-profits and schools and other fundraisers that take advantage of the support from that restaurant. All the suppliers, all the manufacturers, anything that goes into a restaurant,  you’re losing all of that.”