What the future holds for Baton Rouge restaurants and bars is hard to pin down

The impact of such extreme business interruption for restaurants can’t be underestimated, nor will we know the full brunt of it for a while, says Lisa Boudreaux-LeCoq, president of the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Greater Baton Rouge Chapter.

By March 25, the National Restaurant Association reported that 3% of operators nationwide had already permanently closed as a result of the pandemic, and another 11% believed they would close by the end of April.

While some closures seem unavoidable (White Star Market reported closing permanently at the end of March), Boudreaux-LeCoq is hoping the vast majority of local operators can ride out the storm. “Restaurants and bars are the lifeblood of our community,” she says. “It’s where we get together, enjoy a meal and connect. Especially in a place like Baton Rouge, it’s where a lot of our experiences are centered.”

While life may never quite be the same, Boudreaux-LeCoq predicts an enthusiastic return to events and gatherings once we get on the other side of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

In her catering business, the Gilded Artichoke, she’s seen many patrons shift weddings and other gatherings months and even a full year in advance.

“It’s been heartbreaking and hard for people to have to scramble and rebook. But I think when those special occasions are finally allowed to take place, they’re going to be filled with pent-up excitement for getting together,” she says. “I think they’ll be very special.”

Practically speaking, we may see new changes to the restaurant industry, Boudreaux-LeCoq says. The to-go business, which had exploded in many restaurants thanks to third-party delivery services, may become more of a robust option for operators who have already been at it, as well as others for whom this is new territory. Moreover, it’s possible restaurants will lobby the ATC to continue to allow them to provide alcohol with pickup orders—an exception the ATC has made during the pandemic to help boost sales.

More restaurants have added family meals to feed housefuls of quarantined family members. Boudreaux-LeCoq says we could see more restaurants offering to-go items like this—aimed at continuing to make life easier for families, pandemic or not.

“At the end of the day, people in this business are fighters,” she says. “We support each other, and we find a way to make it work when times get tough.”

This article was originally published as part of the ‘Restaurants fight to survive’ cover story in the May 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.