Independently Owned Restaurants Press for Relief Funding

December 21, 2021 by Dan McCue
Independently Owned Restaurants Press for Relief Funding
A restaurant in Georgetown. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — As states across the country prepare for a continued surge in cases of the omicron variant, a coalition of independent restaurant owners is urging Congress to replenish an emergency relief fund for their industry.

According to the Independent Restaurant Coalition, the U.S. is currently home to more than 500,000 bars and restaurants, which, as a group, have lost over $280 billion since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic during the winter of 2020.

In March 2021, Congress created the Restaurant Revitalization Fund as part of its passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, appropriating $28.6 billion and authorizing the Small Business Administration to award funding to those in need.

But just 101,004 restaurants and bars were able to secure grants before the fund ran out of money, while another 177,000 were left out in the cold.

Now the Independent Restaurant Coalition is urging the House and Senate — both currently on a holiday break — to pass the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act, which would make an additional $60 billion in funding available to eating and drinking establishments in need.

The legislation was introduced by Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in the Senate, and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., in the House.

So far, the coalition says, at least 223 members of the House and 43 members of the Senate have indicated their support of the bill.

“Congress went home and their neighborhood restaurants and bars are going out of business,” said Erika Polmar, executive director of the coalition, in a written statement. 

“We shouldn’t be surprised by what we’re seeing – the nearly 200,000 restaurants that have applied for but have not yet received the RRF told us they were out of time months ago,” she said.

Polmar went on to describe the omicron variant surge as potentially “the last straw for many restaurants and bars struggling with back rent, debt, and reduced consumer demand.  

“These small businesses are being forced to choose between making payroll and keeping their staff and community safe during this surge. Restaurant owners across the country are fed up and out of options, but they are not giving up,” she said. “This community will continue to demand their elected officials act quickly to refill the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and ensure the second largest employer in America can continue serving our communities.”

According to a recent survey conducted by the coalition:

  • Over 86% of restaurant and bar owners report they will close without an RRF grant.
  • More than 90,000 restaurants and bars have closed since the beginning of the pandemic. 
  • The omicron variant is already affecting restaurant reservations in cities around the country. Reservations in Brooklyn (45%), Chicago (32%), New Orleans (19%), and New York (47%) are far below their 2019 levels. 
  • Nearly one in five (18.3%) restaurant owners reported having their credit scores reduced below 570 during the pandemic — many of these operators cannot take on any more loans including from the remaining SBA programs.
  • 60% of adults changed their dining habits due to the delta variant. The omicron variant threatens to inflict the same hesitancy amongst diners around the country.
  • The prices of supplies have surged in the last year including beef and veal (57%), grains (55%), eggs (36.7%) and shortening and cooking oil (41.5%).
  • 51% of restaurants could not pay their September rent. 

Bars and restaurants aren’t the only entities calling for a replenishment of the fund, their suppliers are also pushing for restaurant relief as well.

Nearly 30 winemakers, restaurant suppliers and trade groups, including Toast, Baldor Foods, US Foods and DoorDash called on Congress to refill the Restaurant Revitalization Fund in a letter sent to congressional leadership by the Independent Restaurant Coalition. 

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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