The news isn’t very cheerful these days. Coronavirus continues to rapidly spread. Restaurant sales are down by 50 percent or more. Some companies have closed up shop. Many employees have lost their jobs or been furloughed.

Despite all the doom and gloom, one fast-casual CEO is determined to spread positivity to customers and other restaurant professionals. Anthony Pigliacampo is cofounder and co-CEO of Modern Market Eatery, a fine-fast chain based in Denver that, combined with sister brand Lemonade, has 50-plus locations in six states. He’s been leading the charge in promoting the hashtag #SaveRestaurants, encouraging both consumers and other restaurant professionals to double down on supporting restaurant businesses so the industry can collectively get through the difficult season brought about by the coronavirus.

“We’re seeing consumer habits change at a pace that, frankly, has never been observed,” he says. “There’s no precedent for this. There’s no playbook. And so we’re just trying to adapt to it. We keep telling our teams we’re an essential service. … People need to be fed throughout all of this, and you can’t just do it with the grocery stores.”

He’s hoping people remember that takeout and delivery are safe ways to eat—possibly even safer than grocery stores, which are packed with people storing up supplies. He’s also asking people to spread positivity on social media and promote their local restaurant businesses, using the hashtag #SaveRestaurants.

And he’s asking everyone to dine out as much as possible, even if it’s at your competitors, and even if you’ve closed your restaurant. Still have an email list? Use that to promote ordering from restaurants. 

“We need our food distributors to come out of this in one piece. We need all the companies that service our restaurants in a variety of ways to come out of this in one piece,” he says. “And so anything we can do to educate all of our guests that … the industry needs saving, that benefits all of us in the end.”

While there will certainly be a shakeout in the restaurant industry and many will close because of this business downturn, Pigliacampo says the industry will be stronger for what it goes through and the lessons learned. Brands are getting a crash course in food safety that will pay dividends in the future, he points out, and if they weren’t fully invested in off-premises before, then they are now. 

“This event is going to be a forcing function to have people double down even more on all of those things,” he says. “They were the right trends to bet on two months ago, and they’re even more so the right trends to bet on now. And I think the industry is healthier because of that.”

And for those who have had to unfortunately close their businesses, they should take the time to consider how to make their businesses better when they turn the lights back on, he says.

The last two weeks, Pigliacampo says, have been particularly severe as a sense of panic has fallen over the country. But he believes that will settle over the coming weeks, and while restaurant sales won’t return overnight, he thinks consumers will quickly remember after social distancing how much they value the dine-out experience.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a recovery that’s as fast as the drop-off. I think that’s very wishful thinking,” he says. “I do think, though, that the value proposition of restaurants was strong and continues to be strong, and there will be a point where people are not running scared of this virus. And when that happens, I think a vast majority of restaurant sales will restore.”

For now, though, business can feel like surviving day-to-day. But Pigliacampo says restaurant operators should go on the offensive, taking advantage of knowledge, ideas, programs, and other resources available to the industry. Whatever it takes, he says, to get customers through the doors.

“Get volume through your restaurant; that’s going to benefit the community at large more than anything else,” he says. “Short-term problems right now are irrelevant. We are the support infrastructure here, we’re the front lines. We’re giving people food that they need. So let’s keep doing it.”

For more on what Pigliacampo and Modern Market are doing to keep positive and stay open during the coronavirus outbreak, stream the podcast above.

Customer Experience, Fast Casual, Restaurant Operations, Story, Modern Market