COVID-19’s Impact on Restaurants

Bigeye’s podcast features culinary Public Relations expert Holly Kapherr, talking about unexpected innovation in the restaurant industry in response to COVID-19.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: The impact of COVID-19 on restaurants. The restaurant industry has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus outbreak. This week, Holly Kapherr of The Culinati Podcast talks about some of the ways enterprising restaurateurs have found creative solutions to serve customers by experimenting with new formats. Holly also discusses what the post-COVID period will look like for the industry and innovative ways in which restaurants are supporting other local businesses.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. While the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted the lives of most of us at this point, it’s taken an especially heavy toll on restaurant owners and employees. There are over 1 million restaurant locations in the United States and the industry employs almost 16 million people. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the National Restaurant Association projected US sales of almost $900 billion in 2020. But with restaurants and bars across the country now closed or limited to take-out service, the industry lost an estimated $25 billion in sales in just the first three weeks of March with seven out of every 10 owners laying off restaurant employees and cutting work hours. Restaurants are part of the American way of life – and it’s not just about eating out. More than six in 10 adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives and nearly one half of all adults got their first job experience in a restaurant. It’s not surprising then that restaurants are the top employers of teenagers in the US: one in three employed teens work in the industry, Restaurants employ more female managers and more minority managers than any other industry and it’s primarily made up of small businesses. More than nine in 10 restaurants have fewer than 50 employees. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at how restaurants are adapting their business models to our current climate and how some are rethinking their operations. Our guest today has a unique perspective on restaurants’ contributions to the economy and their impact on local neighborhoods. Over the last 15 years, Orlando native Holly Kapherr has made the hospitality world her playground. After graduating from Brigham Young University, Holly attended culinary school and worked as a personal chef in Paris, France, upon graduation. Holly never intended to work in restaurants, having entered culinary school with the goal of working as a food writer and restaurant critic, but with student loans looming, she took a job as a line cook and fell in love with the energy of restaurant kitchens. In 2007, Holly returned to Orlando to attend UCF and graduated with her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing in 2009. During her postgraduate studies, Holly began working for Orlando Weekly as a food and restaurant writer and still contributes to the alternative weekly newspaper regularly. Holly’s career has spanned cookbook and magazine editing, recipe testing, and food styling, but most of all, a lot of writing. Her work has appeared in national publications like the New York Post, Marriott Traveler, Delta Sky, Travel Weekly, and TravelZoo. Currently, Holly works in culinary public relations representing some of Orlando’s finest chef-driven restaurants. A year ago – in April of 2019 – Holly launched The Culinati Podcast, dedicated to exploring the big ideas in the galaxy of gastronomy. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Holly.

Holly Kapherr: Thank you Adrian. I’m happy to be here.

Adrian Tennant: So what inspired you to launch The Culinati Podcast?

Holly Kapherr: Well, it was kind of a roundabout way. I’ve always had NPR dreams. I’ve always loved listening to public radio and particularly the interview shows like Fresh Air. And I often thought about what it would be like to have my own radio show. And as a journalist, I spent a lot of time interviewing people and truly that was the best part of being a journalist – was being able to get in touch with people, learn about them, and learn about the things that they are passionate about and the cool things that they’re doing. And it came to me that most of that stuff that we were talking about wasn’t going to make it into the articles that I was writing because that wasn’t the subject of the articles. I was like, “well, there has to be a place for those things because those are the real interesting stories.” I feel like there’s something really magical about a really good interview. So that was the main inspiration.

Adrian Tennant:

“Exploring the big ideas in the galaxy of gastronomy.” That’s a great log line, Holly!

Holly Kapherr: Thank you!

Adrian Tennant: You’ve been doing this for a year now. How do you determine which topics to cover in your podcast?

Holly Kapherr: You know, in my work I run across these chefs and restaurateurs who kind of champion a cause. And so I wrote down all those causes that I had heard about from my friends in the culinary industry. For example, food waste or community building or championing veganism or composting, anything like that. That’s in the food world. But that is an idea, more of the philosophy behind what people are doing. And the reality is that, you know, even before the Coronavirus crisis hit the restaurant industry, the restaurant industry is a hard one and it’s always been hard, and there has to be a reason why we get up every day and dedicate our lives to this crazy industry. And the reality is that a lot of the chefs and restaurateurs, they really believe in a lot more than just producing great food. There’s big ideas behind what they’re doing and there’s causes that they’re championing, whether it’s women in the workplace or providing a living wage for restaurant workers. There’s always a reason why we get up in the morning and do what we do. And that’s what I wanted to just discover behind what my friends in the culinary industry were doing.

Adrian Tennant: I was really interested to hear you talk about your experience as a writer influencing the way you approach the production of The Culinati Podcast. But I’m intrigued, did you have any prior experience with audio production?

Holly Kapherr: Very little. So when I was in high school, I was the singer in the jazz band and I did a performance at the Winter Park Art Festival. This is in 2002, right before I graduated. And the show was produced by WUCF on 89.9 “Jazz and More.” And the station manager who is still there, Kayonne Riley, she came up to me afterward and she was like, “you know, you have a great voice and I know you’re into, you know, music. So if you would like to intern this summer before you go off to college at WUCF we would love to have you.” And I don’t know if she really like thought that I would take her up on it, but that’s just kind of who I am. I’ve always been, you know, a go-getter. I’ve never been afraid to take up an opportunity and it sounded pretty cool. So I actually ended up working there for the three months before I went to college and I did get a little time on the air doing the weather and traffic reports on 89.9 and it was so cool. I never really thought it would become part of my career and certainly never really put food and audio together until it really made sense for me and it all kind of came together at the right time and right place. 

Adrian Tennant: Now, you mentioned that your podcast tends to focus on businesses within the Orlando area, yet your topics have national prominence. You publish one episode per month on average. How did you arrive at that frequency?

Holly Kapherr: So it is an average of one episode per month. So it takes me a while to research my guests, to send them a little questionnaire, get those answers back, formulate my questions, and be really thoughtful and just more curated with the questions that I ask because I want it to be a really slick show. I spent a lot of my career as a travel writer and have met really incredible chefs, and farmers, and artisans, and cheesemongers, and vintners, and oenologists, who I would love to have on the show. But for right now we’re staying local. And part of the reason for that is that my whole career I really, I have felt like a champion for this town. I grew up here. It is such a different place than it was in the 90s and early 2000s before I left for college and for my graduate school work and for culinary school. And when I came back here in 2007, things were just starting to change in the culinary world in Orlando. We were going from Applebee’s and Chili’s being the only place where you could eat to The Ravenous Pig, opened in 2008, I believe, and just completely changed what happened in the restaurant scene. And right after that, Kathleen Blake opened The Rusty Spoon and the restaurant world here just began to blossom. And I feel like Orlando is such a sleeper city. People know us because of Disney, but it’s difficult to get them to see what is exciting about Orlando outside of the I-Drive corridor and the theme parks. So it’s been part of my mission in my career to show people why there’s no reason to mention the theme parks in their lead paragraph of USA Today about Orlando. We have plenty here that is amazing and it keeps changing every single day. I mean, now we have people who are doing these incredible vegan donuts and people who are horticulturalists growing these incredible heirloom mushrooms. I mean, it’s really incredible, the leaps and bounds in the culinary world that Orlando has made. And so part of the reason why I’ve really focused my show here in Orlando is because Orlando is just really cool and I feel like everyone should know about it. And yeah, all of those topics that we talk about have national import. And so I think that that really shows that Orlando should be on the national stage when it comes to having these conversations about the big ideas in the culinary world.

Adrian Tennant: A Harvard Business Review article published earlier this month cited a national survey of small business owners. Among restaurant and bar owners, 70% said they expect to go out of business if social distancing orders last into July. Do you have any examples of particularly creative or inspiring things, local restaurants or businesses have been doing to stay afloat during this pandemic?

Holly Kapherr: Sure. So I think one of the greatest things that’s come out of this pandemic is the creativity that we’re seeing especially in the restaurant space. And part of it is due to desperation. Certainly restaurants operate on the lowest margins of any industry, usually between seven and 9% and so this is a lawless time for restaurants. And I tell my clients that, “if you ever wanted to try something, this is the time to try it.” So yeah, we’re seeing a lot of really cool creative ideas that may not seem cool or creative now, since we are about a month and a week into this pandemic. But before this was happening these things didn’t exist. For example, family meals. A lot of the restaurants that were, in the past, more of an adult-focused restaurant, a fine dining restaurant, or upscale dining restaurants, they’re really focusing on things that make it easy for people to feed their family. And that could be things that are more one-pot so you don’t have to clean a bunch of dishes like a lasagna or like a fried rice or something like that. And then adding sides and adding drinks, I think that’s really innovative in this space and I think people really are taking advantage of it. There are really big sellers among my clients especially, which are located anywhere from Winter Park, which is a much more adult-focused community, to Lake Nona, which is really a family-focused community. So I think that that’s been really creative. We’ve also seen really cool things like Black Rooster Taqueria is doing Margarita-grams. For $20, you can send your friend a Margarita-gram, which includes the margarita mix, the tequila, some salt and some cut-up limes with some instructions on proportions, which is really cool. Of course they check IDs upon delivery but I think that that’s adorable. We’re seeing a lot of really cool things with alcohol delivery truly and I think that’s also because we’ve never had that option before. And I don’t want make it sound like this is a great thing for the restaurant industry cause certainly isn’t, but I think there is a silver lining here and that silver lining is that restaurateurs and chefs are getting to be more creative than they ever have in the past. And from that, we’re going to see a lot of great developments going forward. We may see new restaurant concepts from somebody who you never would have thought to do. Like for example, if you have an Italian restaurant, but you’ve always wanted to try a ramen popup. You know, we have seen that. We’ve seen people pivoting to delivery that when they first concepted their restaurant, they were like, “our food isn’t going to really going to travel well and I don’t really believe in the third party delivery system.” But they’ve had to pivot really quickly and so they’ve made it work and the reality is that money is money and people need to eat. I think that we’ve seen a lot of really cool things come out of this. And while it is certainly is a tragic blow to the restaurant industry – and I don’t want to underplay that at all – that there will be a lot of cool creativity that comes out of this and I think a lot of learnings that will improve the restaurant industry in the long run.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.

Erik McGrew: I’m Erik McGrew, Designer at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising and design professionals. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers. By conducting our own research, we’re able to capture consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused, creative-driven insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking to Holly Kapherr of The Culinati Podcast. What are some of the things that you’ve seen small businesses doing that have had the most impact either on the business themselves or the broader community at large?

Holly Kapherr: I think alcohol, like I mentioned before, is one of the biggest things that has made a difference. And I think that there’s a real sense of fervor behind supporting your local businesses. And so people are more willing to spend money where they wouldn’t have before. Like for example, on bottles of wine that are now 50% off, or on batch cocktails, or on single-serve cocktails. So I think that’s something that’s really working for restaurants if they can hit the right balance. I think also the family meals are doing very, very well especially if you hit the right price point and offer a family meal for either two people or four people or six people depending on how many people you have in your household and being sensitive to how many people that you know are living at home currently. I think also something that’s been really successful has been GoFundMes for restaurants and GoFundMe has been a really good partner to the restaurant industry so far. So GoFundMe has announced that they are not taking any commission off of any fundraising effort and you can withdraw from your GoFundMe at any time without penalty. And those two things were not in the rule book before all of this. So GoFundMe made those two big changes and the restaurant industry has embraced that. And at least for our clients, we have been working to set up fundraisers and these fundraisers can go to wherever the restaurant wants. So it would be to $10 would feed someone at the homeless shelter or $300 would feed the entire shelter for one meal. You know, $15 goes to Thrive, Winter Park, or to feed Winter Park Fire Department. And these GoFundMes, they not only do good for the organization that the restaurant is working with, but they also keep the restaurant employees working. Because the more money that’s coming into the restaurant, no matter if it’s from delivery or from pickup or from GoFundMe, this money is going to make food. And so in order to make food, we need people who are going to work in the kitchen. And, and in order to deliver those things, we need people who are delivery driving. So I think that GoFundMe is a multi-pronged success. I currently have a client that launched a GoFundMe in partnership with a homeless shelter. And within three days, they had raised over $6,000, which fed the homeless shelter the entire month of May for one meal, which is incredible. So we’re seeing a lot of success with that. There are other things that have been really successful for restaurants. For example, one of my clients recently launched a series of virtual wine dinners that was just a rip-roaring success. Last Friday was their first one. They partnered with a local wine market. The chef put together a three-course menu, partnered with another local business, the wine market. The person who owns the wine market, they paired the wines. And then you could come in for $125 per couple. So for two dinners, you got three courses, two full, 750 milliliter bottles of wine, two really great wines, one Bordeaux and one burgundy and then you went home, you had your instructions, put together your plates. They encouraged people to share on social media their plating and tag the restaurant and tag the wine market and tune into Instagram Live where the owner of the wine market and the chef of the restaurant would talk about the food and the wine pairings. And it was a great time. And honestly, Adrian, I don’t know if it’s because I’m just starved for human interaction or if it was just a really fun evening, but we had a great time and it was really successful monetarily and attendance-wise for the restaurant.

Adrian Tennant: At the time of this recording, we don’t have a firm timeline for lifting stay-in-place orders, but how do you see things playing out when restaurants do reopen?

Holly Kapherr: I think what we’re going to see is a phased approach. I would not be surprised if restaurants take temperatures at the door. I would not be surprised if restaurants outfit their servers and staff with masks and gloves. I would not be surprised if we see half of the tables that you would normally see in a dining room go away for social distancing. I think this is going to be the new normal. I think paper menus are going to be the new normal for a while. I think hand sanitizing stations are going to be the new normal for a while. So I think we’ll see that coming as a phased approach. You know, eventually more tables will be added. Eventually the masks and gloves will go away and be a thing of the past, something that happened in 2020. And I think that eventually, we will see our return to some kind of normalcy. I’m not really sure what that’s gonna look like, but I do think that at first there will be extra measures put into place that we are going to have to get used to for a while. I also think that we’re going to see that the restaurant industry is going to hold onto those delivery and virtual events for a while as well because one of two things could happen. These are the two scenarios that we’re looking at. One, there could be a pop at the beginning because people are really excited to get back out there, get back to a restaurant and then, realizing that they don’t have the disposable income that they used to, we may see a situation where the restaurants are really busy for maybe a week or two and then things kind of drift off again. The other possibility that we’re looking at is that people are just scared to go back to restaurants and scared to go back into public events for a little while. You know, this is truly collective trauma. It’s something that we’re going through that is causing big changes, really fast – and everyone processes that at a different level. And so I think that there may be a possibility that getting back to going to events or going to public spaces may take a little while. So it’s a very interesting time right now. The best thing that we can do is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Adrian Tennant: The statistics show that podcast listening in the US overall saw a bit of a dip in March due in part to fewer people commuting and the reduction in coverage of sports events since all the major leagues are on hiatus. But now we’re seeing listenership bounce back. In what ways do you think podcasts listening behaviors might change permanently as a consequence of the coronavirus? 

Holly Kapherr: I think that it’s an interesting assumption that podcast listenership would go back up after all this is over. People are going back to their cars, they’re listening at their desks, at work. As someone who doesn’t have kids and works from home, I have a lot of time to listen to things. And so when this all happened, I just assumed that people would want to listen to more podcasts. They have more time for content, they have more time for content consumption. But the reality is that the places where we consume this content, especially content where we can podcast or something where you can listen and you can also do something else at the same time. The places where we do that, like at work or at the gym or wherever that may be, those in the car especially, those places are no longer a part of our day. And so those places where we listen to the podcasts, those aren’t available to us. And so we’re not really participating in the podcast. But I think that in another way, podcasts also provide a level of comfort that watching the news or participating in content in other ways don’t necessarily provide. And the reason for that is that the audio format is so intimate. And so when you are engrossed in a show, when you are really interested in what the host has to say, when you’re really interested in the interview or in the conversation or in the story that’s being told, if you’re listening to a fiction podcast, I think that there is some escape there. And I think that at this point, you know, people are really looking for some kind of escape and a lot of healthy escapes because the places where our healthy escapes normally take place are not available like the spa or even the quiet moments in our cars or at the gym. So I think that podcasts are serving a really important moment in our cultural history here. And because of that, we need to be really cognizant about the topics that we choose and the method in which it’s delivered. I think that we have a really big opportunity here for podcasts to cement their place as a place where people went to learn, to be entertained, to grow and to find some kind of comfort in this crazy world. You know, and also I’ll also say like the podcasts that I listen to regularly, you know, they have continued, they have not stopped. They have continued and a lot of them, you know, they choose not to address the COVID crisis in their shows and that helps to maintain some sense of normalcy. And I feel like in this time that we live in we need to cling to some kind of normalcy and some kind of routines. So to hold onto, you know, listening to your Tuesday, Thursday Pod Save America, I think that that is really helpful and can help us maintain some kind of sanity in this crazy time we live in.

Adrian Tennant: Holly, in what ways, if any, have you changed your content or editorial calendar to reflect the COVID-19 outbreak? 

Holly Kapherr: So I haven’t changed my editorial calendar, but I have added information to my editorial calendar. So, for example, I had a nutritionist on my show as the most recent episode, and we hadn’t intended on talking about this, but we had talked about discussing the cultural ways that our society impacts the foods that we choose to eat and are our attitudes towards certain foods like carbs or sugar or fat or whatever. That was what we had intended to talk about. But then all of this happened and I said, “you know, I bet a lot of people are stress eating right now, so why don’t we talk about emotional eating and what we can do to combat that so that we don’t end up with what’s been coined ‘the quarantine 15’?” So we changed our focus a little bit and at the end of this show we did talk about emotional eating, which personally I have some experience with throughout my life, and my nutritionist guest – she also had some experience with that. And then we talked just in general about things that we can do now that we can head off that emotional or stress or boredom eating. So I don’t think that it’s affected my editorial calendar directly, but I do think that it has affected what I talk about with my guests in specifics. For another example, the most recent episode that I recently recorded, I talked to a restaurant consultant and former general manager of several big restaurants here in Orlando. And you know, we spent a lot of time talking about the crisis that’s going on right now and what she thinks is coming next and some really cool tips for restaurateurs that they may not have thought of before. So I was going to interview her, COVID or not, but the questions that I asked, they certainly changed because of this crisis.

Adrian Tennant: Holly, if you weren’t producing The Culinati Podcast, what type of show would you like to create?

Holly Kapherr: I love this question and it’s such a good one. I think that I’d like to do a wine show actually, and I know that I do talk about wine a bit on my show, but I think that there’s so much in wine that would be so interesting to people that have interest in wine, but maybe they don’t know how to get into it or don’t know how to talk about it. Because wine feels like such an outsider’s interest, an outsider’s hobby, you have to be a part of a certain social class to really enjoy wine. But I would love to have a podcast that talks about wine in a really approachable and maybe even a funny or a cool way and talk to Sommeliers who are in their 20s or in their early thirties, who can bring up an entirely new generation of wine drinkers. Wine is something that I’m definitely passionate about, but my knowledge of wine is cursory at best. So I’d love to talk to people who have dedicated their lives to this kind of arcane art form. And of course that would mean that I would get to drink a lot of wine, which I’m always in for.

Adrian Tennant: Nice. Holly, if listeners want to learn more about The Culinati Podcast, where can they find resources?

Holly Kapherr: Sure. You can always follow me on Instagram @Culinati Podcast and that’s spelled C. U. L. I. N. A. T. I. podcast like the Illuminati. But also you can find me on Facebook at And then we are on Google Podcasts, we’re on iTunes or Apple Podcasts, we are on TuneIn, also Spotify, which is a very up-and-coming place to listen to podcasts. I found a lot of great ones on Spotify. And then directly on our website at

Adrian Tennant: Holly, thank you very much for being our guest today.

Holly Kapherr: Thank you so much for having me. This is a great time and really encourage your guests to go out and support their local restaurants, their local restaurateurs, their local economies. The more that we can help on a local level, the better we’ll be when we get back to whatever our new normal is.

Adrian Tennant: Absolutely. I’m going to order myself a margarita-gram.

Holly Kapherr: I think that’s an excellent idea. Cinco de Mayo is a right around the corner!

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Holly Kapherr, culinary PR executive, writer, and the host of The Culinati Podcast. You can find our show notes with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, stay safe. Goodbye.

Read more about restaurant marketing in our article: Restaurant Marketing and Customer Acquisition After Coronavirus

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