Congress must act now to save the restaurant industry
During the Great Recession of 2008, big banks went to Washington D.C., made the argument that they were "Too Big to Fail" and received their now infamous bailout.
Welcome to 2020. The restaurant industry—amid the catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic—is desperate for help because our industry is truly “Too Important to Fail.”
Restaurants are a vital, cornerstone institution, part of the fabric of American life that stretches back to the founding of this country in colonial taverns. Yet, we have been felled by outside forces and by the inaction of our congressional leaders at a time of national crisis.
As American restaurants die, so dies the American Dream. A dream that used to begin anew every year when millions of teenagers across America entered a rite of passage: a restaurant job. For many of them - and for many of us who once did the same - it was their first experience in discovering the indelible lessons and rewards of hard work, maturity, responsibility and pride in a job well done.
Ours is a business that welcomes all people, employing 15 million from all walks of life and backgrounds. The lessons learned in our business serve as a stepping stone for many of our future leaders, doctors, lawyers, teachers, actors, athletes and restaurateurs. Restaurants reflect our values, diversity, work ethic, and passions in every satisfying order, be it a hamburger, hot dog, bowl of gumbo, plate of barbecue, fried rice and everything in between.
Restaurants are our favorite meeting places. We conduct business there. We escape there. And even more extraordinary, we experience some of life’s most important events there: proposals, weddings, graduations and anniversaries.
But now, the restaurant industry is intubated — lying on its deathbed, struggling for air and fed an intravenous drug cocktail called PPP (the expired Paycheck Protection Program) and the Small Business Administration’s EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan). It’s not enough. America’s restaurants are DYING, falling like dominoes in the wake of governmental inaction. We read their obituaries daily, and gasp when one of our favorites shutter for good.
At the current rate, this will not stop. Only one out of five restaurant owners say they can survive the COVID crisis. Four out of 10 restaurants have already closed. A staggering 90 percent of restaurant workers have been furloughed or have lost their jobs for good.
We need support. We are out of time. And yet Congress has failed to reach agreement for another stimulus plan or aid that specifically targets our essential industry.
We need immediate legislation that must address multiple issues: business liability insurance protecting restaurateurs, tax credits helping restaurants to remain open or reopen, enforcement of business interruption insurance, expansion of eviction moratorium timelines, and a clear explanation of what constitutes a restaurant as compared to a bar or tavern — so in the ensuing clarity on capacity limitations, landlords and tenants can reach mutually beneficial resolutions amid forced closures.
We can’t survive on pick-up, to-go, delivery and a few scattered tables in the street.
Congress is failing our restaurant industry, and in doing so, failing the American people and forsaking the American Dream. No American city will rebound from this crisis without its restaurants. As a 35-year veteran of this industry, I urge you to make your voices heard. If you don’t want to see your favorite restaurants close, contact your elected officials and demand legislation that will help our industry survive because it is “Too Important to Fail.”
Please support our efforts by calling your local congressman or by donating to the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) at https://www.saverestaurants.com/.
Elizabeth Blau is a restaurant developer and the founder and owner of Honey Salt in Las Vegas. She is a member of the James Beard Foundation as well as of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs. Blau serves as a trustee for the Culinary Institute of America and also serves on the Global Advisory Board at UNLV. She has appeared as a judge on the Food Network's Iron Chef America, has been featured on the Travel Channel and the Martha Stewart Show, and is an annual judge for Hotels magazine's “Great Hotel Restaurant” list. She also co-starred on CNBC's Restaurant Startup as one of the Season 3 investors.