As people across the globe take steps to ensure their safety amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the hospitality industry has been feeling the impact. In recent weeks, the industry has faced event cancellations, trip postponements and restaurant closures.
The financial implications of these measures are significant. The United States restaurant industry alone employs close to 16 million people, across more than 1 million restaurants, with sales of nearly $900 billion.
“We talk about fire insurance and guest safety insurance, but there is no insurance for when you close your doors,” said Ajai Ammachathram, hospitality expert and assistant professor in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences.
Issues commonly found in the hospitality industry are a primary focus of Ammachathram’s food and beverage management course, made up of primarily senior hospitality, restaurant and tourism management students. During a normal semester, the first few months include discussions of industry issues the students might face in their careers. Those issues include stressful work environments, the lack of health care benefits and the likelihood of living paycheck to paycheck.
“I could’ve never imagined that the list of issues we discussed earlier in the semester would have elevated and played out simultaneously as they have recently,” Ammachathram said.
Being able to adapt to any situation is a cornerstone of working in the hospitality industry, he said, so Ammachathram decided to face the situation head-on and adapt his course accordingly. Moving forward, students in the course will develop projects to address how COVID-19 has affected these already existing issues and what potential recovery will look like.
“Despite the challenges COVID-19 has brought the hospitality industry, we’re trying to take advantage of this as a learning experience,” he said. “At some point, restaurants are going to open again, so what can industry professionals, including our students, do to help with the recovery process?”
Mac Carney is a senior hospitality, restaurant and tourism management major from St. Claire Shores, Michigan. Carney also works within the food and beverage industry and has experienced first-hand some of the issues discussed in class.
“I think my biggest takeaway from class this semester is how to be a solution to the problem,” she said.
Carney holds a leadership role at her current place of employment. Thanks to COVID-19, one of the current issues she’s facing is low employee morale. As a partial solution, Carney implemented a recognition board to thank employees for their hard work and commitment. It has created fun and friendly competition among her team.
“It’s important for those working in the hospitality industry to have fun and approach the job with enthusiasm because that will reflect on your customers and guests,” Ammachathram said.
By learning about possible solutions to current issues, students in the hospitality, restaurant and tourism management program at Nebraska hope to play a role in helping the industry recover from COVID-19.
“The hospitality industry is hurting now, for sure, but we will be back on our feet in no time,” Carney said.