Local Restaurants Brace For Economic Impact Of Coronavirus in N.H.

Mar 13, 2020

Credit Courtesy of Lucky's Coffee Garage

Until a few days ago, you could stop by Lucky’s Coffee Garage in Lebanon and get anything you need: a coffee, bite to eat, or even a glass of wine.

But in recent days, Lucky’s has rethought its role as a community gathering spot.

“The more we can do to increase social distancing, the healthier the community will be,” said Lucky’s owner Deb Shinnlinger.

So rather than having coffee drinkers lined up table to table, Lucky’s removed some seats, so there’d be more space in-between people, and less chance of spreading the coronavirus. 

And then on Friday, the restaurant went a step further: Lucky’s blocked off its seating entirely, and is making all orders to go.

“We have taken some things off the menu that take longer to prepare, so that we can essentially move our customers through the flow of the line at a faster pace,” said Shinnlinger.

Everything about public life, including the daily coffee run, is in a state of flux. And restaurant owners like Shinnlinger are bracing for the economic impact. Those hardest hit, however, will likley be the industry's servers, hosts and line cooks, many of whom rely on tips.

“I can make as much as $200 on a Saturday night usually, and I think last Saturday night, I only made $70,” said Rachel Minery, a server at a restaurant in Concord. “That’s probably more typical of a normal lunch shift."

As business slows for her, the single mom said her finances will feel the strain. With a nominal hourly wage of $3.27 for tipped workers in the state, and no paid leave, there’s no safety net for her, or lots of people like her, in the food service industry. 

“We are already kind of just getting by, so it is going to be a struggle to get by, until it gets busy again,” she said.

But at Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, the staff and the clientele haven’t seen any changes yet. Owner Kathy Cote said it’s very much still business as usual, with a steady stream of customers stopping by for a big breakfast.

“As of yet, we haven’t noticed anything different,” said Cote, before acknowledging there’s a “lot of apprehension.”

One additional challenge she and other restaurants are facing is inventory. She’s been unclear about whether she should stock up, in case getting ingredients becomes harder.

“It’s a Catch 22, where you might be ordering extra, but you might not get the customer base to need that extra,” she said. “So, it’s hard to tell.”