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Keep Eateries In Mind During The Holidays

3 min read

Last November, I shared ideas about Arkansas food-related products great for holiday corporate gift-giving. What a difference a year and a pandemic make.

I’m still going to share a few gift-giving ideas, but I’ll state right up front that among the best things you can do for your favorite restaurants are to:

  • Follow health guidelines for limiting the spread of the coronavirus;
  • Continue to order takeout (and tip a little extra if you can); and
  • Consider giving restaurant gift cards for Christmas.

This thing will end — sooner if we behave responsibly — and when it does, people are going to want to celebrate and socialize at their favorite restaurants.

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the restaurant industry in Arkansas and throughout the United States. Between March, when the pandemic first began to be felt, and October, sales at eating and drinking places in the U.S. were down nearly $175 billion from expected levels, according to the National Restaurant Association.

“Add in the sharp reduction in spending at non-restaurant foodservice operations in the lodging, arts/entertainment/recreation, education, healthcare and retail sectors, and the total shortfall in restaurant and foodservice sales likely reached $215 billion during the last eight months,” the association reported last week.

In Little Rock alone, almost three dozen restaurants had permanently closed as of late last month, including Franke’s Cafeteria, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019, making it one of the oldest restaurants in Arkansas.

Things are likely to get worse. The National Restaurant Association noted that sales at eating and drinking places had dropped to $55.6 billion (on a seasonally adjusted basis) in October, a decline from September’s sales of $55.7 billion and the first monthly drop since the end of the lockdowns in the spring.

Last month’s sales “likely included some of the last opportunities for outdoor dining in many parts of the country,” the association said. “Factoring in the indoor dining restrictions that are currently being reimposed in some jurisdictions, it becomes clear that the winter months will represent an extremely challenging period for restaurants that rely on on-premises business.”

In a phrase: “Winter is coming.”

Here is my idiosyncratic list of a few Arkansas-centric food-related books that would be good holiday gifts and a nod to one of our craft breweries.

► Kat Robinson’s “102 More Things to Eat in Arkansas Before You Die” has been published. Robinson is the blogger behind tiedyetravels.com and the author of several other food books, including “Arkansas Food: The A to Z of Eating in the Natural State.”

► A great little book about those focused on providing local foods is “Rooted” by Lacey Thacker and Sara Mitchell. It tells the story of farm operations like Barnhill Orchards of Lonoke, famed for its strawberries, and Farm Girl Meats of Perryville, whose motto is “wholesome meat from the happiest animals.”

► A handsome coffee-table book is “The Modern Arkansas Table: Recipes by Local Chefs” by Emily Van Zandt, with photography by Arshia Khan. It’s published by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

► Beer from any of the state’s craft breweries would make a good gift for imbibers on your gift list, but I’d like to mention one brewery in particular because it received national recognition last month. Lost Forty Brewing of Little Rock was recognized at the 2020 Great American Beer Festival, the largest commercial beer festival in the world, as both best Mid-Size Brewing Company and best Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year. It also won a gold medal in the “Brett beer” category for its Day Drinker Belgian-style blonde ale. (Brett beer is brewed using a type of yeast called Brettanomyces.)

This Thanksgiving week, I’m thankful for many things, despite the hardships of the pandemic. But one of them is the hard work of all the Arkansas restaurateurs and restaurant workers hustling to stay in business while keeping patrons and staff safe.

I’m not only grateful; I’m in awe of you.

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