The American restaurant industry has suffered the most significant sales and job losses of any U.S. industry since the COVID-19 outbreak began, according to a study by the National Restaurant Association. By mid-April, the trade group estimated, more than eight million restaurant employees—two out of three—had been laid off or furloughed.
Things have improved somewhat since then, as eating places in many states have at least partially reopened, and another trade publication, Restaurant Business, reports that almost 1.5 million jobs were added back to eateries in June. It will likely be a long time, though, before staffing levels return to pre-pandemic levels.
In the meantime, many restaurants—both chains and independents—have been hiring, rehiring, or re-purposing employees to fulfill functions that were never part of the restaurant workload before. Here are six restaurant jobs that have appeared (or in one case reappeared) since the advent of the novel coronavirus.
Sanitation Specialist/Hygiene Captain
This is an individual responsible for wiping down any hard surfaces on which the coronavirus might linger, including tables and chairs, doorknobs, and condiment containers—pretty much a full-time occupation in a large and busy restaurant. The pioneer here might have been the popular Atlanta-based chain The Varsity, which added a shift position with cleaning and sanitizing duties as long ago as early March.
It's unlikely that any restaurant actually uses this term—it was coined by Restaurant Business—but the idea is that some establishments are designating one person to go beyond what the sanitation specialist does and oversee every conceivable aspect of the dining room safety regimen. That means not just making sure that tables and other hard surfaces are sanitized but monitoring employee hand-washing, enforcing social distancing, and (where required) mask-wearing protocols, overseeing the distribution (and subsequent destruction) of disposable menus and napkins, and anything else that will help make the dining experience safer.
Food Protection Manager
The state of South Carolina mandates that each restaurant keep an employee on staff whose duty is to oversee not the service but the preparation of meals, to ensure that cooks are taking all the proper precautions. This would presumably include regular hand-washing, the wearing of masks and disposable gloves, and the frequent disinfecting of surfaces. A company called Food Service Monitoring Inc. has automated a portion of this job with devices called Hand Wash Coach and Hand Wash Monitor, which remind employees to wash up on a regular schedule and track their compliance.
As early as late January, a three-unit Southern California Chinese restaurant chain, Sichuan Impression, began checking the temperatures of potential diners with an infrared thermometer before they entered. While many restaurants now check only staff members and vendors daily for fever, at least a small number of restaurants around the country have belatedly followed Sichuan Impression's lead and are taking diners' temperatures as well. In any large restaurant, this would be a dedicated job, at least part-time.
Even when restaurants almost everywhere in the country were shut down, they were permitted to stay open for pickup and delivery, and many chose to do so. Not surprisingly, UberEats and other food delivery services saw a huge surge in demand. At the same time, though, some restaurants—spurred by safety concerns (do all those third-party drivers really wear masks and sanitize their hands?) and the high fees some services charge them—are hiring and training their own delivery staff.
Shades of American Graffiti...Given the need for social distancing and the advice of experts that people restrict their social circles to members of their own households, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of drive-ins—first movie theaters and now restaurants too. Being able to enjoy a meal in the comfort, privacy, and safety of your own vehicle while still having the feeling of being out and about with others has a lot of appeal these days. Diners and other retro-style establishments are particularly well-suited to car service and have been training servers to carry trays of food to and from parking lots without mishap. So far there have been no reports of carhops on roller skates, but if the trend takes off, that could be next.