‘In Other Words, We Lied’

While trying to act like it’s all awesome, we posted our beautiful food and our best ideas

Heated Editors
Published in
4 min readApr 22, 2020


Photo: Vinaigrette via Instagram

By Erin Kimberly Wade

Your favorite restaurant is closed. Anything open is a ghost kitchen with a skeleton crew serving takeout comfort. An industry that supports millions of Americans and flourishes on the freedom of assembly and the pursuit of happiness is shut down and may not come back. For the time being, we are all eating alone.

For American restaurants, it was an overnight collapse, which, like overnight success, was long in the making.

You didn’t notice we were hurting, because our Instagram posts were so perky. We spent hours cultivating the perfect tone and styling self-consciously messy pictures. We posted our beautiful food and our best ideas. We’ve been trying to act like we think it’s all awesome. In other words, we lied.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, independent restaurants were under pressure from an emerging cluster of threats: the enervating, margin-sapping pull of takeout platforms run by technology companies, political indifference, and rising fixed costs.

Restaurants have thin profit margins — 10 percent if you’re lucky, often less. Delivery apps promise increased sales but push us into the red on every order sent our way, sometimes charging 30 percent or more per meal. Many of us now depend on these predatory platforms to access customers. Tiny taco shops write monthly checks greater than their rent payment to Grubhub, a publicly-traded company worth billions.

Tiny taco shops write monthly checks greater than their rent payment to Grubhub, a publicly traded company worth billions.

As the squeeze tightened, restaurants have had no friends in Washington. Most of what Republicans lobby for benefits big business. Most restaurants are not that. Democrats think we exploit workers, an idea rapidly becoming obsolete. Workers aren’t exploited, they are disappearing, almost everywhere but in restaurants.

Before the cataclysm, restaurant payrolls reached all-time highs even as sales flattened and fixed costs rose. The fact that we…