Coronavirus impacts food service workers, who play a major role in our regional economy

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

With Gov. Roy Cooper’s declaration this week that restaurants must close their dining rooms and move to carry-out only, restaurant workers across the region are scrambling to figure out how they’ll get by during the coronavirus crisis. 

Food services and drinking establishments (basically, restaurants and bars) account for almost 9 percent of the region’s jobs: 115,000 out of 1.35 million total jobs in Mecklenburg and the surrounding 13 counties.

In Mecklenburg, the share of workers is 7.9 percent. Some major establishments, such as Sycamore Brewery and Dressler’s, had already announced temporary closures before the government order, while others are cutting staff to deal with the new reality. Jamie Brown, co-owner of Haberdish and Crepe Cellar, told Charlotte Agenda they were forced to lay off all but 10 of their 95-person staff this week. 

[Read more: Retail workers, many hit by store closures, make up a big part of our workforce]

There are 5,640 payrolled businesses in this category, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not all workers in food and drinking establishments will be unemployed; drive-through, carry-out and delivery services will continue to operate.

But unlike salaried workers who are able to telecommute for the foreseeable future, hourly restaurant employees (many of whom count on tips) are unlikely to be paid for missed work. And many of those employees are already working in low-wage jobs. Food services employees in the 14-county region earn an average of $21,445 compared to $67,844 for all jobs. 

Hourly workers in other industries are taking a big hit too, with the closure of department stores, movie theaters, hotels and numerous other retailers. The governor’s order included changes to loosen unemployment restrictions, allowing North Carolinians to access payments more easily. 

Food service workers account for almost 9 percent of the regional workforce, with the highest number in Mecklenburg County. Map: Katie Zager