Restaurant and bar industry asks government for help
In the midst of a pandemic, restaurants and bars are in danger. Many are closed or operate with small teams and minimal orders. Hundreds of thousands of hotel workers are unemployed and many without health care.
The pandemic is being felt by everyone from local pubs to pillars of industry—Even Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group has laid off 3,000 people.
Workers in the industry are calling on state and federal governments for help (the switchboard in the capital is accessible at 202-224-3121, they ask).
“To put it bluntly, “says Brandon Thrash, former head bartender of Chicago’s Bad Hunter,” an overwhelming number of independent restaurants and bars will not survive this closure without immediate and decisive government action. “
A petition, backed by names like Alice Waters, Will Guidara, Tim Hollingsworth, Hugh Acheson, Alon Shaya and Curtis Stone, has grown, amassing 50,000 signatures in the last 24 hours alone. Donors call for action from the federal government, providing a list of political suggestions and demands:
- Emergency unemployment benefit for all employees on leave, both hourly and salary
- Approval of reduced rents and loans for all those affected by the closures
- Abandon the payroll tax
- Work with state liquor boards to enable restaurants offering take out and delivery to also sell / deliver beer, wine and cocktails by the bottle
- Relinquish zoning or permit restrictions to allow restaurants to temporarily use their spaces as food and beverage shops, providing an alternative to overcrowded supermarkets, keeping staff paid and farmers and suppliers supported
“Many people live paycheck to paycheck, just like restaurants and bars,” the petition pleads. “There is no nest egg. No reserve fund. No glass to break in an emergency. We cannot work from home, and even if we temporarily switch to delivery and delivery, we lose most of our income and the tips our employees depend on for survival.
Companies do all they can. Pick up at the curb. Delivery. Hawking merchandise and gift cards–mainly microcredits. Cocktail bars collect GoFundMe tips and wine bars sell their cellars. Sommeliers deliver the bottles.
It helps, but it won’t keep the doors open. What restaurants need is more than cash write-off from customers. They need the help of the government.
“I call on our city, state and federal leaders to step in with a comprehensive emergency relief program for restaurant and bar workers,” Meyer said in a statement.
“Employees and businesses alike need it desperately,” says celebrity chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud. “The government should support the restaurant industry by covering the cost of health insurance, temporarily suspending rents or mortgage payments and increasing unemployment benefits.”
Juan Correa, owner of Llama San in New York and Llama Inn in Brooklyn knows, “Our employees need protection. The government, both state and federal, must act now. He has had to lay off non-managerial employees and pleads for the exemption of rents and public services, as well as for the expansion and acceleration of unemployment benefits.
Jeffrey Bank, CEO of Alicart Restaurant Group (owner of Carmine’s and Virgil’s restaurants), emphasizes: recover their own stock. Where’s the plan to pay 500,000 laid-off employees? ”
Bars and restaurants that have laid off staff are trying. Llama Inn and Llama San have a pantry fund for their employees, constantly replenished with 100% of gift card sales and tips from pickup orders. Lost Lake collects tips in exchange for cocktail newsletters and priority passes to reopen the bar. Some bartenders, like the anonymous Toronto Rolling trolley, have become accustomed to delivering cocktails in batches. But workers need more.
“If there is no reduction in rent or financial aid for restaurants, the majority of restaurants will disappear,” explains Henry Rich, owner of the New York group Oberon (Rhodora, June, Rucola, Purslane Catering) . “But if we don’t increase unemployment benefits while staff are out of work, there will be no one left to work in restaurants.”
Governor Cuomo waived the seven-day waiting period for UI, but the system is overwhelmed. Last Tuesday, they received 2,000 calls. This week: 21,000. They have activated a system whereby applicants one day register which matches their name.
A significant part of the problem lies in the flaws inherent in the industry: Employer-provided health care, paid vacations, maternity leave, and retirement benefits are almost unheard of, and a large portion of employees live off paycheck with no safety net or benefits. . “It has become a very professional industry that lacks the protectionism of other professions,” says Lynnette Marrero of Llama San. “This has to change.”
But the biggest obstacle right now is the unknown. No one can predict whether restaurants will be closed for weeks or months. “Nobody has any idea what’s going on,” describes Michael Sinensky, founder of Simple Venue. “No one has a job, an income or an idea for the future. Every hour is another rumor that we are spinning our wheels.
Rescue plans begin to roll out by state and federal governments, but many questions–what are the conditions? Are they going to pay workers minimum wage, or just a percentage? Are there any advantages? Health care? The answers will vary from state to state.
The White House got a call to discuss the future of the restaurant industry. Domino’s Pizza, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s and Papa Johns were among the brands chosen to participate. No independent operator was included.
Leyenda is an independent cocktail bar based in Brooklyn. It has been dubbed one of America’s best cocktail bars by Thrillist. It has been nominated for a series of Tales of the Cocktail Awards and for a James Beard Outstanding Bar Program award. But distinctions cannot keep the storm cloud away. “If businesses like mine (25 employees, 55 seats) don’t get help from the government as soon as possible, we’ll close, ”says owner Ivy Mix. Even corporate bars and restaurants cannot remain open, she stresses. “The restaurants operate LEAN. We will have nothing.
What does government support look like for her? “It’s not a LOAN, it’s just money – money in our pockets to pay our staff, our bills due, our bills and will keep us afloat,” Mix says. “Small businesses, especially those whose employees have tips, must have suspended payroll taxes, reduced rents for employees AND establishments. “
Sinensky points out that business loss insurers are already claiming viruses are not covered. “We need every debt and every bill to advance for 60 to 90 days to give us leeway. “
“There has to be an element of rent discount or, alternatively, rent elimination for two to three months as the lease term increases, ”says Eric Silverstein, founder of Austin’s Peached Tortilla. “Most restaurants have a 2-3 week track right now. After that, sad as it may sound, it’s the end of the game. ”
New Orleans has postponed paying sales tax ”,but asking for it in a few months, when we’re all in recovery mode, ultimately won’t help the industry, ”says Philip Moseley, Blue Oak BBQ partner. When restaurants start to get back on their feet, late payments will deal another blow.
“Naturally, the government’s priority has been to slow the spread of the disease, save lives and protect New Yorkers most vulnerable,” says Rich of the Oberon Group. “But for New York to recover and be recognizable, we cannot lay off all food service workers and not help them financially get through this crisis.”
There is hope in Philadelphia: The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association has a full-time lobbyist who is on the ground defending the industry.
“His work and the organization’s influence and access are more critical than ever as we all seek answers to the question, ‘How do we survive? “Says Tyler Akin, PRLA board member and owner of Philadelphia’s Stock and Res Ipsa Cafe. . “We are seeking tax moratoriums, accelerated entry of unemployment benefits for employees made redundant out of necessity, reduced commercial rents and access to low or zero interest loan programs for small and medium-sized businesses. “
But to create an industry-wide safety net, government intervention is needed. The economic stimulus bill come into play may contain answers, but time will tell.
Mix sighs: “Small businesses, bars and restaurants are the heart of our communities. We risk losing everything. When all of this ends, salaried employees working from home right now may have nowhere to go. “
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