Op-Ed | A glimmer of hope for nation’s struggling restaurants

sbuFILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced 21 more locations for outdoor dining options as part of a city initiative in Manhattan, New York
The city is accepting applications for open streets and open streets dining locations.
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

by Andrew Rigie and Robert Bookman 

The nation’s restaurants and bars are dying rapidly from COVID-19, and like the new vaccine that will save American lives, the $25 billion restaurant relief package passed by the U.S. Senate last week will save American small businesses.

Since the coronavirus hit, more than 110,000 restaurants around the country have shuttered, and countless more eateries and drinking establishments are teetering on the edge of survival. What’s more troubling is that approximately three quarters of restaurant owners who closed for good say it’s unlikely they’ll open another venture in the future, jeopardizing the odds of returning 2.5 million restaurant and bar jobs lost in 2020, including 372,000 jobs in December alone.

Saving our neighborhood restaurants and bars is not a Democrat, Republican, or Independent issue, it is a deeply American issue. Whether you live in New York, the greatest city in the world, or the heartland, restaurants are essential to the social and economic fabric of our communities. Restaurants are where we traditionally share family time and special occasions, go on first dates and mark anniversaries, cheers with coworkers after a long week, and where millions of Americans have gotten their first jobs and so many others have elevated their careers.

The tragic truth is that up until this point, some in government have stood by in waiting as the restaurant industry crumbles from pressures and forces outside of its control. The combination of COVID-19 and severe restrictions limiting business operations has cooked up a recipe that threatens the viability of restaurants around the country. But it is not too late for our elected leaders to do the right thing and prevent the permanent loss of even more beloved restaurants and jobs.

If the banks were too big to fail in 2008, our country’s restaurants are too critical to collapse in 2021. We do not seek a bailout as the financial industry did following a series of wrong and self-serving actions, instead we deserve our government’s support because we’ve done everything right – whether it is feeding frontline workers, combatting food insecurity among children and seniors, keeping employees on the payroll as long as possible, or closing our doors for the greater good.

The Biden Administration faces the monumental challenge of restarting the economy while preserving public health. Fortunately, the blueprints for saving restaurants have already been prepared and the solution is ready to be built. Last year, Senate Majority Leader (and Brooklyn born) Charles Schumer was a leading advocate and fighter for the RESTAURANTS Act, which earned over 50 sponsors in the Senate and passed in the House of Representatives, and now the 117th Congress must immediately pass a version of this dedicated restaurant relief.

Unlike the recently passed Paycheck Protection Program, which is better suited for other industries but is a band-aid on a cannon wound for restaurants, the new $25 billion structed revitalization fund modeled on the RESTAURANTS Act would provide struggling restaurants with grants to pay for months of missed rent, payroll for workers, vendor expenses and more.

And let us not forget the industry’s underemployed and unemployed workers who just like restaurant owners have had their lives shattered. So, we need to also get workers more direct support and enact this stimulus for restaurants, so they have jobs to return to.

Now, it’s critical that lawmakers put politics aside and enact a stimulus plan that supports restaurants across the country that have been absolutely devastated by the pandemic. The restaurant recovery fund will put the nation’s hospitality industry on a path to recovery so that hundreds of thousands of small businesses and millions of workers have the opportunity to get back on their feet and welcome you again into their dining rooms and bars after one of the most harrowing crises in our country’s history.

Andrew Rigie is the Executive Director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance and Robert Bookman is on the Counsel of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.