USHG internal, Tech cuts, Musk bait and switch, Critical safety, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, April 10th, 2020

Hello Friday,

Blow up your TV. Subscribe to a paper.

Let’s get to it…

The Mail Bag – A bunch of you wrote in with your thoughts on this year’s postponed James Beard Awards, and the consensus is…: Get on with it. Obviously not a scientific sample, but everyone who replied (including several people on Beard Awards committees) said it was time to finalize and put out the list of finalists now, so that voting can move ahead and the awards can happen on time or close to it. Conversations with a few of you ended on the idea that in lieu of the usual in person ceremonies, the foundation should simply publish results online and celebrate winners at some future event. Over to you, JBF! (Dissenters, please chime in!)

The Ripples – Restaurant tech newsletter Expedite was a bleak list of job cuts this week. Under the headline, “The Layoffs Have Come to Restaurant Tech,” writer Kristen Hawley goes one by one through not only the pink slips, but also the bullish decisions in the months before COVID that might have exacerbated problems. On the list: Yelp (“Yelp announced it had laid off 1,000 workers and furloughed an additional 1,100, according to a blog post by its CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman.”); Toast (“Point of sale provider Toast laid off or furloughed half of its staff Tuesday.”); Eventbrite (“Ticketing and events site Eventbrite also announced a 50 percent workforce reduction this week.”).

P.S. – My FWIW comms advice to groups lobbying for more state and federal aid for the restaurant industry: Skip talk of “concentric circles” or “knock-on effects” or “trickle down” or whatever, and just make the point over and over again that all those jobs are restaurant jobs. Save restaurants, save those jobs. Even Yelp.

The Ripples Too: The Media – Coronavirus is also hitting the media hard all over the place, as businesses (like restaurants!) spend less on advertising. On an individual level: Food editor Nicole A. Taylor tweeted Wednesday: “I was laid off today [at] Thrillist. Honestly, I feel FREE. While navigating a very white media space, I lost my voice, confidence, and passion. My time was up! I'm most proud of the Best New Restaurant 2019 package and making room for POC storytelling.” (Thread beneath her tweet has links to a lot of those accomplishments.)

The Critics – This week, both the NYT’s Tejal Rao and the SF Chronicle’s Soleil Ho tried to tackle the “moral dilemma” of balancing worker safety vs paychecks and business in restaurants that have remained open for takeout and delivery. The headline on Rao’s piece asks directly: “Is My Takeout Risking Lives or Saving Restaurants?” Rao never really answers that question, though she added on Twitter, “I’ll keep ordering from local independent restaurants and other small food businesses because they’re absolutely vital and I want to see them on the other side of this, but I know that workers here, and all over the country, are putting themselves at risk, in some cases forced to choose between their health and their livelihood.”

Ho, for her part, hints at leaning towards shutting everything down: “Ultimately, if we’re serious about flattening the curve of infections, we need to allow restaurants, cafes and other food businesses to do what governments have asked so many other industries to do: Close to the public.” And even references writer Tunde Wey’s recent essay suggesting we “let the restaurant industry die.” (Wey is talking about that on an open Zoom with New School students today at 1PM EST, FYI). But then she moves swiftly into policy prescriptions, ending with a list of “what needs to happen,” including free testing, rent forgiveness, better federal relief terms, benefits and protection for undocumented people, insurance coverage, and universal healthcare. “With all of this in place,” she writes, “restaurants and other food business could freely close, protecting workers and staying out of debilitating debt. And then, in the future, actually reopen.”

These are fine conversation starters, but I don’t know why food media keeps talking about risk to workers without trying to quantify it. My conclusion reading these pieces has to be: Running a restaurant and offering takeout and delivery is actually relatively not that risky to workers, so while not ideal, consumers can still place orders in good conscience. Readers will just have to assume the writers have the numbers to back up that conclusion somewhere.

The Inside HUGS – Not sure this has been posted elsewhere, but a reader recently laid off from Union Square Hospitality Group sent me the public link to an internal HR site, USHG Cares, which lists all the resources they’re making available to their team. It’s not perfect, but there are multiple languages, links to COBRA explainers, and even a “Chat With Chip” Zoom recording of a company HR briefing with Danny Meyer, chief people officer Patti Simpson, and, of course, USHG president Chip Wade, among others (you will be shocked to learn I did not watch the entire meeting). The site is worth poking around and I hope they keep it public for other groups to draw and improve on too.

The Family – Headline in HuffPo: “Elon Musk’s Billionaire Brother Told His Workers They Were Family. Until COVID-19 Hit. Kimbal Musk’s Next Door restaurant chain cut off access to an emergency fund right before putting about 100 employees out of work.” Seems employees were chipping in on a “Family Fund” over the years, but per reporter Emily Peck: “As the restaurant chain grappled with the business impact of the coronavirus, Next Door told employees on March 16 that it would temporarily shut down operations for two weeks… Many applied for grants from the Family Fund, according to several former employees…. Five days after the temporary shutdown, management told workers that the Family Fund was changing. The email promised that under the revised program, employees would get a $400 grant within one to two days…. But employees never got [a link to the new application page]. Just two days later, on March 23, about 100 of them were officially out of a job… Many asked about the Family Fund. That’s only for current employees, they were told.”

Neat trick!

And that’s it for today. In spite of ourselves, we’ll end up sitting on a rainbow. Against all odds, honey we’re the big door prize.

I’ll see you here Tuesday for next Family Meal.

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P.S. I know that’s the obvious Prine lyric to end on these days, but as a bonus, In Spite of Ourselves mentions the Easter bunny as sexual metaphor, so… there you go.