Maine is home to more than 3,200 restaurants that generate an estimated $3 billion in direct sales annually. The industry employs close to 42,000 people and, according to a 2019 study from Hospitality Maine, accounts for direct wages of $1.3 million.
While 1 in 10 Mainers is employed in the hospitality industry, Hancock County has the highest percentage of workers at 14.7 percent, and the highest taxable hospitality retail sales among all industries in the county at 32.6 percent.
While it is easy to see the obvious impact when a restaurant can no longer open its doors to the public and is forced to lay off or furlough its staff, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes impact that may not be as clear.
Most restaurants source ingredients from local farms, fishermen and food producers. With the need for fresh produce, eggs and meat down commensurate with the loss of business overall, that means a loss of revenue for food producers, too. The news has been full of images recently of farmers across the country plowing over fields of produce or milk producers dumping milk down the drains to keep from flooding the market and driving down the cost of goods. While at this time of year Maine’s farmers are not growing very much produce, how and when restaurants reopen will likely affect what they do plant in the spring.
Restaurants hire other businesses as well. They have accountants, cleaning services and equipment repair specialists on speed dial. Money generated from the industry reverberates throughout the local economy as restaurant owners support other local businesses from hardware to grocery stores. According to the National Restaurant Association, every dollar spent in a Maine full-service restaurant contributes $1.79 to the state economy.
It seemed like overnight that the restaurant industry was dealt an extreme blow, and only time will tell how it recovers. Given the seasonal nature of Mount Desert Island, many businesses were already closed for the season and planning a May (or later) opening. Maine’s hospitality workforce is resilient, but the industry operates on the slimmest of margins even in the best of times.
Right now, the highly lucrative summer season seems up in the air for many restaurant owners who are trying to read tea leaves to determine when they may get the go ahead to allow people to dine in. It is also unclear what the landscape will look like when the stay-at-home order is finally lifted and people can resume activity—normal or otherwise.
As we wait for that day to come, consider supporting the restaurants that are open because they could use every dollar you are able to spend. So, too, could the economy.