Opinion: The dining establishment company model is unsustainable in coronavirus times

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the food service industry – including restaurants, bars, beverage crafters, food providers and trade suppliers – and thousands of local food service professionals. 

That’s why 28 businesses and 16 organizational partners have partnered with Resilient Restaurants of Colorado in our first six weeks, including Illegal Pete’s, Pueblo’s Bistoro, Denver’s Sexy Pizza, Downtown Colorado Inc., Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce and B-Local Colorado.

One thing the pandemic has made clear: the current business model pervasive in the restaurant industry is simply unsustainable. In just the past three months, iconic restaurants have closed their doors, tens-of-thousands have lost service jobs and most of the survivors are furiously trying to figure out how to operate in the current “phase one” reopening environment of 50% capacity.

Robert Bogatin, Resilient Restaurants of Colorado director

There are a number of shortcomings in how many restaurants currently are doing business – insufficient cash flow, plastic waste, faraway food sourcing, high employee turnover, substantial pay variation between front and back of house workers and lack of paid sick leave that also increases the risk of infecting customers with avoidable illnesses.

Longmont’s La Vita Bella Cafe proprietor, Todd Eichorn said, “Main Street venues like ours play such an important role in our culture, connecting us with art, music, community gatherings and our closest friends. 

We need to do everything we can to address the systemic problems in food service, and Resilient Restaurants is leading this effort. We will reopen with our existing best practices while strengthening our local support networks and supply chain value.”

Resilient Restaurants, a new statewide resource working group, is using local collaboration and creativity to rebuild and create a more equitable, sustainable, profitable and resilient business model. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

We have launched a statewide “Condition of Colorado’s Restaurant Industry” statewide survey to assess restaurants’ needs for pandemic relief. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment pre-screened and approved it, and will use it to guide programs and grants if our sample rate is significant and accurately represents Colorado diversity.

And because our mission is to support restaurants in improving their practices to achieve long-term sustainability, ResilientRestaurants.org is offering immediate resources online, including a new series of webinars and innovative workshops starting in July, called A la Carte.

Modules include:

  • Analyzing and presenting resilient business model practices, compensation and benefit plans and community engagement so restaurants are more profitable and minimize cash flow problems.
  • Providing resources for how to operate food establishments with environmental integrity, efficiency and with a pathway to carbon neutrality.
  • Implementing employee best practices to elevate equity, opportunity and professionalism to build a skilled, stabilized and reliable workforce.

So many restaurant owners are reinventing how they do business on-the-fly – and they have an opportunity to develop solutions to these problems together. Resilient Restaurants aims to be a leading community resource for restaurants looking to design their business model with social and environmental values in place, as well as growing their bottom line – and a place where restaurateurs can exchange ideas and develop effective new practices.

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Megan Ossola, owner of The Butcher & The Baker Cafe in Telluride, is enthusiastic about bringing restaurant owners, suppliers and employees together to solve problems: “I stick to the values that have gotten us where we are to ride out this storm together. 

“Our customers really appreciate that we’re maintaining our restaurant’s commitment to sourcing our produce and meats from local farmers and ranchers, to refusing the use of single-use plastics and sourcing biodegradable nitrile gloves since our use of gloves had doubled.

“I wish all restaurant owners knew that it’s possible to be profitable, environmentally responsible and generous with employees – all at the same time.”

We hope the public supports Resilient Restaurants’ effort to accelerate the resilience of Colorado’s food service industry while improving the standards and performance of our restaurants, the lives of employees and everyone in our food ecosystem.


Robert Bogatin is the Resilient Restaurants of Colorado director and award-winning sustainable small business owner and former Boulder County restaurateur.


The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to [email protected]

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