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Overwhelmed by How to Help the Restaurant Industry? Make a List.

Think of all the places you want to survive and start ordering

Budae jjigae dish as seen from above.
Budae jjigae at Han Oak in Portland, Oregon
Dina Avila/EPDX

Supporting restaurants, if you have the financial means, feels more important now than ever before. As a second (or third) wave of shutdowns rolls out throughout the country, many businesses are closing yet again, this time with the added financial burden of a year’s worth of frantic pivots and the emotional burnout it’s caused. That feeling of helplessness we as restaurant lovers all feel is likely a mix of frustration that the federal government is still failing to provide any meaningful aid to small business owners, coupled with the nagging knowledge that our weekly $25 take-out order of khao soi and pad see ew is likely a drop in the bucket in terms of what that restaurant really needs to survive.

We’re all trying to support restaurants in our own ways, and honestly, the love we have for the industry as a whole is making the effort to “support restaurants” seem like a vague and unending battle. During the first wave, I mostly mobilized to support the spots in my immediate neighborhood — the places I walk by with the dog daily, the ones whose patios I’m mostly likely to populate once this is all over. As the months passed, a few to-go and delivery spots were added to the mix, and now, when dinner time rolls around, I’ll usually hit up the same three or four restaurants over and over. The reflex is a shortcut, a way to avoid thinking long and hard about patronizing a restaurant in terms of “who to show support to tonight” when the options are overwhelming and the need particularly pressing.

That said, I felt a minor tinge of actual agency earlier this week by sitting down and doing what a lot of people do when they’re overwhelmed: I wrote out a list. The list of restaurants (more than 20, all over town) represents the hypothetical closures that would leave me the most bereft, and I’m committing my support to them these next few months. I think of it as a personal Eater 38 of sorts, a reminder of what exactly about my city’s local restaurant scene feels most necessary, or comforting, or essential to me. In a time when our social media feeds are full of new menus, new pivots, new appeals for support, my new to-do list is a way to concentrate all that energy into something that feels slightly less paralyzing to me as a consumer. And it’s a way to break free from the delivery and takeout rut I’m currently in by literally reminding me of what else is out there.

Because now that the next wave of closures is here — and after months and months of heartbreaking closures, both permanent and temporary — it’s time to be more strategic, and less reliant on our “defaults” when it comes to showing financial support. Writing a physical list was a good exercise to consider the places that I’ve missed, or that I fervently want around when out-of-town guests come back, or that feel like such a part of the fabric of the community that I can’t imagine what the neighborhood would be like without them. My list of restaurants still includes some of my regular go-tos, plus places that I haven’t been to since the pandemic hit due to sheer laziness or lack of social occasions that would bring me there normally; some are in neighborhoods I haven’t even visited in the past eight months. Unfortunately no one without an unlimited bucket of cash (or, cough, actual political power) can save all the restaurants. But it feels like doing something, at least, to commit on paper to patronizing some, for as long as I can.

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