An estimated five to seven million restaurant workers are expected to lose their jobs over the next three months across America as the coronavirus pandemic eliminates eating out in an age of social distancing.
“As an industry that is based on welcoming everyone through our doors, we are uniquely affected by mandates that keep us from serving our customers,” stated Sean Kennedy with the National Restaurant Association in a recent letter to President Donald Trump.
As of Tuesday at midnight, even limited dining has been banned inside Virginia restaurants and other dining establishments, like breweries and wineries, per an emergency state order. The drastic move, intended to curtail spread of the virus, has forced restaurants here and everywhere to shift to takeout and delivery only options.
Many restaurants in Culpeper have answered that call—see the complete list at Culpeper Renaissance Inc. on Facebook.
Shirley Ammon, a partner at Beer Hound Brewery in downtown Culpeper, said Wednesday morning they had decided to close until restrictions are lifted in an abundance of caution and to ensure the safety and health of their employees, patrons and the community.
"We are using this time to do some maintenance to the equipment and deep cleaning while the tap room is closed," she said. "When the restrictions are lifted we want to invite the community to a party on the patio and enjoy seeing everyone again."
Restaurant owners have had to cut back on hours and workers—an estimated 1,390 people are employed in food service and accommodations in Culpeper County, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.
“We are facing economic headwinds that will lead many restaurants to shut down operations, lay off workers, and end service in our communities,” Kennedy wrote in the letter, estimating restaurant sales nationwide would decline by $225 billion in the next three months.
Kevin Woodward, a cook in a Culpeper restaurant, said his hours have been drastically reduced since last week. Where he was working six days a week, 35-40 hours, he is now down to one, three-hour shift in the kitchen this Friday.
“It was my main source of income,” said Woodward. “The past week I haven’t been working, so I’m trying to find work on the side. Try to keep things moving and a somewhat regular routine going.”
Over the weekend, he did some yard work for a friend in Bealeton and helped another friend detail cars. “I’m scrambling—if I can do it I’m not going to turn it down,” Woodward said.
Tuesday morning, he was finally able to file for unemployment online after waiting several hours on the phone without any success. He got his last paycheck recently and is bracing for a new month of bills.
“It’s been pretty frustrating mentally because I’m used to getting up and going to work,” Woodward said. “I’ve just got to stay focused on the bigger picture as far as what I have to do for myself … I think everything is going to work out.”
Asked how many Culpeper restaurant workers are being impacted by coronavirus restrictions, Director of Economic Development & Tourism Paige Read had no hard data to share.
“With more than a dozen local businesses temporarily closing, there is a whole new population of Culpeper-based food and retail workers experiencing the impact of COVID-19,” she said last week.
According to Read, local jobs are available in other sectors—Merchants Grocery, Communication Corporation of America and The Culpeper all reached out to Virginia Career Works this week with job openings, she said.
Read referred further questions about local restaurant worker impacts and how they should file for unemployment to Culpeper’s Virginia Employment Commission agent, based in Charlottesville. He referred questions to Richmond-area VEC representative Joyce Fogg—the VEC closed its office in Culpeper in 2011.
“Please tell those who have been laid off, furloughed or hours reduced to go to www.vec.virginia.gov to get information and file their claims online if possible,” Fogg stated in an email, advising those applying for benefits make sure they use a site ending with .gov. “There are scammers with fake sites to get your information or pay.”
She advised filling out claims online versus the phone (866/832-2363) because the wait time via phone is more than two hours. The goal of the state unemployment agency is to pay in a week, Fogg said. The maximum weekly benefit is $378 for up to 26 weeks.
Virginia Career Works Culpeper Center downtown is also assisting individuals and businesses via phone (540/212-4570), email (email@example.com) and online with unemployment claims, workforce training and reconnecting affected workers with employment opportunities, said center director Marty Bywaters-Baldwin.
“We’ve received a number of calls this week regarding unemployment,” he said. “Folks have also applied for unemployment directly online and via the call center.”
In addition, there is immediate financial assistance available to help small businesses avoid layoffs. Virginia Career Works Piedmont is offering “reimbursement innovative aversion” grants up to $3,000 for businesses with 250 or fewer employees to address COVID-19 related effects.
The money can be used to pay for expenses for deep cleaning, sanitizing office space to prevent virus spread and for the purchase of software or computer equipment for teleworking.
“Companies can apply now and make sure they are approved before purchasing anything, or they can submit an application for reimbursement after a purchase is made,” said Sarah Morton with Virginia Career Works Piedmont.
Businesses located in Albemarle, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Fauquier, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison, Nelson, Orange or Rappahannock can apply at https://vcwpiedmont.com/small-business-grants-available-for-covid-19-impacted-businesses/.
Hotels and other lodging establishments are also being hard hit amid the pandemic. More than 23,000 jobs in the industry in Virginia have been lost so far, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. The Association estimated Virginia’s lodging industry would lose a total of more than 78,000 direct and indirect jobs before the pandemic is over.
Another business segment is about to be hard hit by the coronavirus. As of midnight on Tuesday numerous businesses considered “recreation and entertainment” must close, according to the state order, including beauty salons and barber shops.