By Doug Schmitz
WASHINGTON, D.C. – According to a newly-released national survey conducted by the National Restaurant Assoc., the entire restaurant industry has lost two-thirds of its workforce, more than eight million employees, as a result of COVID-19 closures.
“The restaurant industry has been the hardest hit by the coronavirus mandates – suffering more sales and job losses than any other industry in the country,” wrote Sean Kennedy, the association’s executive vice president of public affairs, in an April 20 bipartisan letter to congressional leaders.
“On March 18, we wrote you warning of a bleak outlook for the restaurant industry as the pandemic was unfolding,” he added. “One month later, we have a clearer picture of the severe challenges that lie ahead, and ask for a focused solution on behalf of an industry that is a vital part of every community.”
In an April 20 industry recovery plan sent to Congress, the association called on lawmakers to enact a new “Blueprint for Recovery” to provide targeted relief for this second largest private sector employer, an industry which has been one of the slowest to bounce back from downturns.
The survey of 6,500 restaurants nationwide stated more than 60 percent of restaurant owners said existing federal relief programs – including the CARES Act – will not enable them to keep their employees on payroll during the downturn.
Moreover, the survey said restaurants lost $30 billion in March, and were on track to lose $50 billion in April, as well as a COVID-19-related loss of more than $240 billion nationwide by the end of the year.
“Each of you has a favorite restaurant in your home state – one that exemplifies your culture, your cuisine, and your community,” Kennedy said. “The restaurant industry epitomizes the American dream, but it is uniquely vulnerable to both the current circumstances and the future uncertainty of dining in an era of social distancing.”
He said the association appreciates the leadership and action taken by President Trump and congressional leaders last month, and throughout the COVID-19 crisis, via the Paycheck Protection Program.
“While relief programs like the Paycheck Protection Program have benefited a wide range of small businesses, the restaurant industry remains one of the most vulnerable in the country,” he said. “No industry has suffered more job losses, closed more locations or lost more revenue than ours.
“For an industry that is the second-largest private-sector employer in the country; this should be an alarm call to elected officials at the state and local level and in Washington,” he added.
Annabel Reeves, DAT senior corporate communications manager, told Farm World a large amount of food goods go to commercial foodservice, which includes restaurants, sporting events, college and school cafeterias.
“We are hearing some reports that commercial demand is coming back a bit, driven by restaurants getting more efficient with take-out and drive through,” she said. “As states reopen, we expect some demand to come back, but the extent to which we see recovery depends on how quickly and completely the sector recovers.
“There will be some longer-term ‘scars’ on the demand side that will take some time to heal – up to six months or more if we see higher-than-expected economic impact or a relapse in infection rates.”
Kennedy said restaurants need targeted help through initiatives like the association’s “Blueprint for Recovery.”
“We look forward to working with Congress and President Trump to build bipartisan consensus around this plan so restaurants and employees survive today, recover, and rebuild in the days ahead.”