DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.
After nearly a year in the throes of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic fall-out, the fight for federally backed restaurant relief wages on.
The CARES Act, The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and The Main Street Lending Program failed to provide restaurants with the funding needed to guarantee their survival. Since June, the hope for another bout of federal relief has slowly dwindled and restaurants have turned elsewhere for financial aid, resources, and support.
But on March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the latest $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill (the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” or ARPA) into law. Included within this bill is a much-needed $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund that is modeled after the RESTAURANTS Act. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund is designed to specifically support the recovery of small and medium-sized food and beverage businesses. It's a glimmer of hope for independent restaurants.
In this guide to restaurant relief and recovery, we’ll walk you through:
The timeline of restaurant relief in America
What’s in the works on the federal level
What funds and financial resources are available to restaurants and restaurant workers in need from local grassroots organizations.
DISCLAIMER: this content is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You’re responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. Contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.
This post was updated in December 2020.
We spoke to the Top Chef about how she's running her business during a global pandemic. “We need each other during these times."
Restaurant Relief in America: What’s Going On?
COVID-19 has resulted in radical change for restaurants in 2020.
In an effort to curb the spread of the airborne virus, early COVID-19 restrictions took aim at businesses, venues, and events where large groups would congregate in enclosed spaces and share air. High on the list were restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries, and other eating-and-drinking establishments.
On March 15th in Ohio, the first restaurants were forced to close. And within the following week, restaurants in most other states had followed.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) -- a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill signed into law on March 27, 2020 -- was created to provide financial relief to both individuals and businesses to help with the substantial losses caused by COVID-19.
Most relevant for restaurants, the CARES Act included:
$300 billion in individual $1,200+ cash payments,
$260 billion in increased unemployment benefits,
the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) -- a loan forgiveness program to help small businesses, and
the Main Street Lending Program -- a low cost loan program run by the Federal Reserve
Unfortunately for many small restaurants, SBA CARES Act loans quickly dried up. Sixty percent of small businesses applied for funding, but a mere 5% received assistance, according to Business Insider.
And the Main Street Lending Program was equally disappointing. The program was delayed for months -- with many banks unwilling to participate, and many business owners wary that the terms of the loan were too strict. As of December 8th, the Main Street Lending Program has provided fewer than 400 loans total, with the deadline quickly approaching at the end of the year.
Despite 1 in 5 jobs lost during the pandemic coming from restaurants and bars, they only received less than 8% of all PPP dollars. The industry lost $220B in the second quarter, but both the restaurant and accommodations industries received just $42B in PPP loans
By mid-April, nearly two-thirds of restaurants saw their revenues cut by 50% or more. And the need is still acute: In the past 9 months, restaurants in every state have been affected — with sales currently down over 40% nationwide. In many areas, cases are surging and government restrictions are returning.
Since March 2020, restaurants have experienced the swift roll-out and slow roll-back of restrictions to their operations. As we find ourselves in what experts have dubbed “the second wave”, many cities, states, and municipalities have chosen to re-enact mandates that limit, restrict, or prohibit in-person business from taking place. Once again, restaurants find themselves in the hot seat.
For an up-to-date list of state-level restaurant restrictions, check out this resource from the Independent Restaurant Coalition.
Getting experts and elected officials to agree on a united approach to slow the spread of COVID-19 has been a bumpy road. Getting these same folks to agree on financial restaurant relief has resulted in a months-long impasse on Capitol Hill. In a recent letter to congress, The National Restaurant Association predicted that COVID-19 restaurant closures will put 110,000 restaurants – approximately 17% of the industry – out of business As the country’s second largest private sector employer, who, at the outset of the year, employed roughly 15.6 million people, these restaurant closures have substantially contributed to the record high unemployment and jobless claims reported during 2020 as a result of the pandemic. In the first week of December, The National Restaurant Association reported that industry jobs were down 2.1 million compared to pre-pandemic levels. Unfortunately, the real number is likely higher than that being circulated: In November, a government watchdog reported that The Department of Labor had grossly underreported jobless claims and underpaid those seeking unemployment assistance.
On December 1st, a new $908 billion COVID-19 relief package was introduced to congress that includes an additional $300 million for the Paycheck Protection Program. Even so, without a precise picture of when COVID-19 will end, restaurants need a comprehensive plan of action.
Restaurants will need to figure out how to pay rent, employ their staff, and operate in the short-term, both to weather the uncertainty as well as fuel their resurrection as the COVID vaccine begins its rollout to the general population.
Restaurant margins are already slim, averaging 5-6% on a good year. With 87% of full service restaurants reporting an average 36% drop in sales revenue as of December 7th, these dwindling profits are unsustainable. And costs are not dropping either: 59% of operators say their total labor costs (as a percentage of sales) are higher than they were pre-pandemic.
For restaurant employees, the stats are equally tough. With over 17,000 jobs lost in November alone, industry unemployment is 134% higher than the national average. Half of restaurant operators have reported that they expect staffing levels to further decline in the next three months.
The kind of plan restaurants require to survive the pandemic demands more action than what the government has provided up until now. Without broader and more meaningful action, too many restaurants will be forced to close their doors for good.
“There’s so much that needs to be done to level the playing field,” says Cheryl Straughter, owner of Soleil Restaurant and Catering.
What is the Restaurant Revitalization Fund?
Included within the new stimulus bill signed into law on March 11, 2021 is a much-needed $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund that is modeled after the RESTAURANTS Act. Funding will take the form of grants that will be awarded by the United States Small Business Administration (SBA). Individual businesses are eligible to receive up to $5 million in grants, while businesses with up to 20 locations are eligible to receive a maximum of $5 million per physical location with up to $10 million in aggregate across its affiliates (typically, a restaurant group).
What is The Restaurant Relief Bill?
The RESTAURANTS Act -- introduced to Congress in June by Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer -- seeks to provide an additional $120 billion to aid struggling restaurants. Unlike the CARES Act, it would prioritize restaurants with less than $1.5 million in annual revenue and those owned by women, minorities, and veterans.
Unfortunately, neither the RESTAURANTS Act (nor any similar legislation aiming to provide relief to the restaurant industry) has been included in the December relief package, despite strong bipartisan support. It has passed the House, but has been slow moving through the Senate.
There is hope that a change is coming in the upcoming administration, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris cosponsoring the RESTAURANTS Act in the Senate, and the bill reaching 49 signatures as of December 3rd.
President-elect Joe Biden has also been outspoken about his support for restaurant relief. “[The restaurant industry] affects the ability of the economy to continue to grow,” he said. “It should not be a loan, it should be a guarantee.”
To read the full text of the RESTAURANTS Act introduced in the house, click here.
To read the full text of the RESTAURANTS Act introduced in the senate, click here.
Rather than waiting for government aid that may or may not come, many restaurant owners are taking matters into their own hands. If you’re looking for other helpful restaurant-related guidance for navigating the COVID-19 outbreak, keep reading.
Which Restaurant Relief Funds Exist for Restaurant Workers and Businesses?
In the wake of the nationwide in-person dining restrictions rolled out this past March, communities were quick to rally around their local restaurants. Emergency restaurant relief took on many forms, from gift card and merchandise sales, to petitions, to restaurant grants and donations from grassroots fundraising efforts like support-our-staff Venmo accounts.
Now, as we inch nearer still to the one year anniversary of the stay-at-home orders, restaurants are still in dire need of relief funds and aid. The below list is by no means exhaustive, but includes a mix of resources to help restaurant operators run their business right now, as well as a mix of national and local options for restaurants and restaurant workers looking to find short term financial relief.
Restaurant Relief Resources
As if running a restaurant isn’t complicated enough on a normal year, ever-changing restrictions and COVID case numbers have made each week a new challenge. The resources below can help you run your restaurant during COVID.
Safety First: Serving Food and Protecting People During Covid-19 – Created by The James Beard Foundation, The Aspen Institute, World Central Kitchen, and Off Their Plate. The guide is also available in Spanish.
Relief for Restaurant Workers Currently Available
These resources are available to restaurant workers across the country to help them access financial relief, job support, and other forms of help through this difficult time.
Another Round Another Rally is a non-profit financial resource providing reimbursement grants and emergency assistance for those employed in restaurants, bars, and hotels.
CORE Gives grants support to children of food and beverage service employees navigating life-altering circumstances.
Go Tip Em is a website that allows you to Venmo bartenders around the United States as you enjoy a beverage at home. Using the hashtag #GoTipEm, the campaign encourages you to post a photo of a drink on social media, and donate to one of the bartenders in the directory.
The Heirloom Foundation advocates for a healthy food industry through public outreach, wellness programs, and benefit events by reinvesting in communities through direct service grants to nonprofit organizations that provide support to restaurant workers and entrepreneurs.
JobGet is an app that helps workers in the restaurant or service industry find new jobs.
One Fair Wage is working to give sub-minimum wage employees no-strings-attached cash assistance, with a goal of $213,000, since the federal tipped minimum wage is still $2.13 an hour.
RentalAssistance is a directory of rental assistance agencies and organizations that will help you pay rent if you have been laid off from your restaurant job.
ROC United has also created a petition called Stop the Spread, which urges all large restaurant chains to provide paid sick leave for employees, which will allow for stability for workers who need to stay home rather than coming to work sick.
Spill the Dish is a database of financial aid options for restaurant owners and workers. Users can search by state and job position to find resources from government agencies or nonprofits.
United Way offers a 211 call service and encourages folks to reach out if they are unable to pay critical bills, access to childcare, or other essential needs.
USBG Foundation provides social responsibility education and philanthropic programs in order to advance the health and wellbeing of service industry professionals. Additionally, they are raising funds for their COVID-19 Relief Campaign in order to bolster their Bartender Emergency Assistance Program, which provides bartenders who have experienced a catastrophic event or emergency hardship with a grant to make ends meet.
Restaurant Relief Funding Options
The below list of national, state, and local options for restaurant relief funds and support is broken into two categories: National and Regional. Within regional, we’ve included options pertaining to restaurants in the West, Mid-West, South, and North-East.
For additional, regional restaurant relief options, check out this regularly updated resource page from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) and this dashboard of 700+ links compiled by Barmagic’s Hospitality Relief Dashboard that is updated daily.
Nationwide Options for Restaurant Relief Funds
Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans – An option for BIPOC-owned restaurants, The James Beard Foundation launched this relief fund in June 2020 to “help create a more equitable industry for communities that are disproportionately impacted by systemic racism and in acknowledgment of the immeasurable contribution that these two communities have made to the modern American foodscape.”
Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation created a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund to give restaurants zero-interest loans, provide direct relief to individual restaurant workers, and donate to other nonprofit organizations serving restaurant workers.
Spectrum Reach has partnered with Waymark to offer free video commercials that you can make on your own.
Regional Options for Restaurant Relief Funds
Big Table Seattle, WA, Spokane, WA, & San Diego, CA - This nonprofit collects donations for hospitality workers and provides immediate crisis care through a personal referral network.
Seattle Hospitality Emergency Fund Seattle, WA - A fundraiser to assist restaurant workers who are working fewer hours or have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
California Restaurant Association Foundation California - The California Restaurant Association Foundation created Restaurants Care which helps restaurant workers cover basic living expenses. Check out this small-business resource list they put together filled with funding and support options for restaurants in need.
Employment Development Department California - This website provides residents in California with information around unemployment and paid family leave.
Chicago Hospitality United Chicago, IL - An association that launched a line of merchandise where all proceeds go to hospitality workers around the city to provide relief for COVID-19.
Chicago Family Support Services Rent Assistance Chicago, IL - An organization that assists individuals and households that are at risk of homelessness.
Michigan's COVID-19 Community Response Michigan - The group of community-based organizations is reorienting their collective resources for the care and survival of their most vulnerable residents, seniors, and working people and families.
Behind You Boston, MA - A nonprofit taking donations for hospitality workers in need on Boston's North Shore.
Food Link Massachusetts - A food rescue organization that collects restaurant and cafe food and distributes to those in need.
New Hampshire Hospitality Employee Relief Fund - This fund will provide grants to impacted restaurant and hotel employees in New Hampshire for housing, living, and/or medical expenses.
New York Hospitality Alliance New York - The association lists employment opportunities, financial aid, critical hotlines, and where food can be donated on their resource page.
Rethink Food New York City, NY - Rethink Food will provide 30 New York restaurants with $40,000 to change their operating model into a food distribution center during the pandemic.
The Giving Kitchen Georgia - A nonprofit that provides financial assistance to those in crisis.
Hook Hall Washington D.C. - Working with Washington, D.C. Costco stores to fill open roles with restaurant workers that are out of work. They are also distributing care kits and family meals daily for industry workers in Washington D.C., and have implemented the Worker’s Relief Fund in partnership with Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington to receive donations to support industry worker relief measures.
Lee Initiative Kentucky - In partnership with Maker’s Mark, the Lee Initiative has turned 610 Magnolia into a relief center for any restaurant worker who has been laid off or has had a significant reduction in hours. They are offering help for those in dire need of food and supplies. Additionally, they’ve started a Restaurant Workers Relief Program to fund restaurants in Louisville, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Seattle, Cincinnati, and New York City.
SOBEWFF® & FIU Chaplin School Hospitality Industry Relief Fund Florida - A relief fund to provide immediate financial support to independently owned and operated restaurants and bars in South Florida impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Southern Smoke Foundation Austin & Houston, TX - An Emergency Relief Fund for those in crisis. To date, Southern Smoke has donated more than $1.6 million — both directly to people in need via the Emergency Relief Fund and to organizations that represent the needs of people in our industry.
If you know of a resource, grant, fund, or support program for restaurants and/or restaurant workers that isn't included in the above list, submit it to [email protected]