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Food Policy Opinion

Governments Are Doing Nothing To Rescue The Struggling Restaurant Industry

“We’ve listened to all the advice, only to be shut down over and over again and not to be compensated… There’s no science that shows outdoor dining is unsafe! I’m not an asshole, [Governor Gavin Newsom] is.”

The above viral clip from Slapfish owner Andrew Gruel has resonated strongly with restaurant owners around the country. Gruel, whose seafood chain has locations nationwide, is echoing frustrations that governments aren’t doing enough to help restaurants while forcing many in the industry out of business.

Meanwhile, the industry is hurting at an unprecedented level. Data from the National Restaurant Association shows an estimated loss of $215 billion in the last eight months across the restaurant industry nationwide. Over 100,000 restaurants have already closed, and estimates figure that over a third of all restaurants could shut down by June without some sort of relief.

Restaurants have been doing everything governments tell them to do for the most part. They’ve added capabilities for outdoor dining, spending thousands of dollars to do so. Chef Jason Quinn of Southern California’s esteemed Playground, for example, was paying thousands of dollars monthly for a heated tent setup that all got shutdown when outdoor dining was banned.

For many, they feel that banning outdoor dining is a step too far, especially when research has not definitively proven that it leads to a spike in coronavirus cases. Outdoor activities with social distancing are actually encouraged, such as walking in parks or camping, and the CDC does consider outdoor dining to be lower risk than indoor dining as well.

Of course, any form of activity where you come into near contact with others has some level of risk for transmission. The safest thing to do would be to shutter everything, but doing that requires stimulus money paid out to restaurants and businesses. Otherwise, they won’t be reopening once those hypothetical lockdowns end.

“All of this following rules is being predicated on being assisted by the government,” Quinn told Foodbeast.

From local to state to federal level, there has been minimal help for struggling restaurants. Outside of a potential meager stimulus package from the city of Los Angeles and the dimming hope of a restaurant bailout bill passing in Congress, there’s little funding out there to ensure restaurants have the ability to reopen after the current period of pandemic lockdowns.

Congress does have the legislation on hand to help out, with the RESTAURANTS Act potentially providing up to $120 billion in relief. While it has passed the House of Representatives, the Senate has fallen flat in helping out one of the most crucial industries in the country. The bill has yet to even be taken up in legislative sessions there.

Meanwhile, the latest round of bailout funding from Congress doesn’t funnel any money into the restaurant or hospitality industry, leaving owners struggling to survive.

Foodbeast has spoken to several restaurant owners since the latest shutdowns began. While some, including Slapfish, are keeping outdoor dining open, and some are sticking with the government lockdowns, all of them had the same message: Without funding and help, independent restaurants likely won’t last much longer.

“Over the last 10 years, food has become an important part of our culture,” Quinn said. “If we lose all of these small restaurants and just end up with Cheesecake Factories and f**king Arby’s and shit, then we’re gonna have lost a lot of really important work.”

Regardless of whether governments should lock down restaurants or open up outdoor dining, they need to be funding restaurants at a level where they can survive, lest the “backbone of the American economy” collapses. They’re currently sitting on their hands and doing little to nothing, meaning that it’s up to us, regular people, through takeout orders and tips and whatever other ways we can support, to help keep these businesses going.

By Constantine Spyrou

Constantine's life revolves around eating, studying, and talking about food. He's obsessed with eggs, gyros, and the future of food.