OPINION: Let’s remember to value dining and support restaurants, pandemic or not

A restaurant in Madrid, Spain, hangs a sign notifying customers that it’s had to shut down due to COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Restaurants are the heart of any community. 

From the local family-run diner that you never get tired of to the 3 Michelin star rooftop that’s listed in every travel guide for the city, dining has transformed into an integral part of an area’s culture. 

They’re the place where relationships are birthed, milestones are celebrated, memories are made. 

But currently, they’re $130 billion in lost sales. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly decimated the restaurant industry, forcing them to shut doors for months at a time. For some establishments, that meant closing doors for good. For others, it meant completely changing the way they operate, shifting a focus onto takeout. Regardless, if there’s one thing that we should take away as restaurants continue to open back up, it’s that they deserve our support whether there’s a pandemic or not.

With the onset of quarantine, social media was flooded with hashtags and photo captions urging people to support small businesses and buy takeout from local restaurants. While the initiative is certainly noble and — by all means — necessary to prevent more doors from shutting permanently, it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for us to realize this. 

Local restaurants make up the very topography — the very identity — of our communities and deserve unconditional support year-round. The family-run breakfast joint with criminally good pancakes is not just a one-time spectacle to flaunt on social media in the name of “supporting” small businesses but a cornerstone of the community it serves.

I took my first steps at a local Indian restaurant during my first birthday party. But now, our annual visits and memories are replaced with an empty parking lot and foreclosure sign. While it hurts to know that a place where you, and countless others, have made memories now doesn’t even exist, it hurts more to know that we could have saved it.

Supporting a local restaurant — regardless of the circumstances surrounding it — is our responsibility as community members. Often, we overlook restaurants in our definition of a community, but it’s time we recognize that food is as integral to the vibrancy of our lives as the people we interact with.

Perhaps it depends on your own upbringing and relationship with food, but I know that my life would feel incomplete without restaurants. Maybe it’s just the food critic in me speaking or maybe my love for trying and cooking new cuisines, but the bottom line is the same: food is an experience worth saving.

The family-run breakfast joint with criminally good pancakes is not just a one-time spectacle to flaunt on social media in the name of ‘supporting’ small businesses but a cornerstone of the community it serves.

Eating locally, though, not only provides restaurants with much-needed customers, it poses benefits to patrons as well. Recent studies from the University of British Columbia and Local First found that each dollar spent locally circulates more than 2.5 times within the area and that 73% of it stays within the community in perpetuity. So ordering takeout is about more than enjoying delicious food, it’s about participating in your community’s economy, boosting job creation, and supporting the diversity upon which it thrives.

As consumers, we also have the ability to influence the goods and services offered to us in the market. Think of each donut you purchase from a local shop as an imaginary vote of sorts that the donut deserves your money. Economists would call this the “invisible hand” which guides market supply and demand — and if that means that I should purchase more food, I’m all for it. 

Clearly, given the interconnectedness of our local economies, our decisions as consumers to eat locally should be a priority we recognize moving forward. By ordering takeout, purchasing gift cards for future use, and encouraging others to visit local restaurants, we can ensure that this pandemic won’t be a mass extinction event for the places we love most. 

So order that bowl of ramen before a bustling cornershop is replaced with an empty sidewalk. 

Make a conscious effort now, before you have to say goodbye. 

Aryav Bothra is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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