At the time of this writing, remaining hopes for the replenishment of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) were dashed when the $48 billion bill to provide relief to small businesses hit by COVID restrictions could not get sufficient votes to overcome a filibuster. Last year, the fund had helped restaurants struggling with the strains of the pandemic to pay employees and cover debts. However, of the more than 278,000 restaurants that applied for funds, only 101,000 restaurant applicants received grants before the Small Business Administration had exhausted its funds. For the remaining restaurants, the replenishment of the fund was especially critical. According to the National Restaurant Association, 62 percent of operators who didn’t receive funding have racked up additional debts and 57 percent have fallen behind on expenses. The Independent Restaurant Council estimates that more than half of the 177,300 independent restaurants awaiting RRF grants could close without additional aid. So if relief isn’t coming in the form of grants, where can operators find it? Start with your relationships. Find other operators in your situation and discuss how you might help each other through this rough patch by pooling staff or supplies, sharing expertise or even partnering in a different venture like a virtual kitchen. Lean on your strong relationships with landlords and suppliers and look for any leeway they might give you on existing contracts. Finally, talk to your guests. They don’t want to see a favorite community business go away, so this is a prime time for them to demonstrate their loyalty. They might be able to help you brainstorm ideas to generate much-needed income and community support in the near term.
On March 26, President Trump signed the CARES Act stimulus legislation into law. The law provides support for restaurant and foodservice owners and workers in the form of payroll incentives, employee benefits, emergency grants and tax relief. (The National Restaurant Association provided a summary of the CARES Act’s benefits to the industry. https://restaurant.org/Articles/News/CARES-Act-provisions-whats-in-it-for-restaurants ) But will the benefits go far enough? Chef Tom Colicchio says no – particularly in the case of independent restaurants. Colicchio is founder of Crafted Hospitality and a visible member of the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC), a newly formed group that is aiming to help save local restaurants impacted by COVID-19. The CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program, a key part of the new law, lets owners of restaurants with fewer than 500 employees apply for a loan of up to $10 million or two and a half months of payroll, whichever is less – and Colicchio said in an interview with Forbes that he thinks it is unlikely the industry will be back on track in that time frame. He is now working with the IRC to advocate for a six-month income replacement program worth $440 billion. Restaurants of any size could benefit on the condition that they continue to fully employ all restaurant staff, as well as pay rent and suppliers to keep money moving through the supply chain. The coalition is aiming to build a strong, united voice that can address lawmakers about what support the restaurant industry needs right now. In addition to providing daily legislative updates, it provides people on its mailing list with a social media toolkit, calls to action that can help operators mobilize their communities and networks, and key messages to use when speaking to the media to help get the word out about what independent restaurants need right now.