Over the past few months, communities across the country have come together to support their local restaurants during the pandemic, but many businesses are still barely scraping by, desperate for some relief. And that's exactly what a new proposed bill called the Restaurants Act is seeking to provide them with.
Chef Tom Colicchio, owner of Crafted Hospitality and judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” appeared on the 3rd hour of TODAY this morning to discuss the bipartisan bill, which could provide $120 billion in direct relief to restaurants.
"Restaurants were forced to close and then even when we open we're opening in New York at 25% capacity. We're just bleeding money every single day," Colicchio, who works with the Independent Restaurant Coalition, said.
Without significant governmental assistance in the near future, the chef worries that the pandemic could usher in the "extinction of restaurants."
"We’re going to see a lot of boarded up spaces and a lot of open spaces for quite some time if we don’t get some assistance here," he said.
The Restaurants Act currently has support from many members of the House of Representatives and Senate, and Colicchio encouraged civilians to also lend their support.
"Obviously supporting your restaurants is great, just going there and eating. But that's just half of it," he said. "The best thing you can do is get on the phone right now and call your member of Congress (about the bill). We have tremendous support right now but I think that Congress needs to hear that this is a priority."
A new survey from the National Restaurant Association's says the pandemic has caused 100,000 restaurants (1 in 6) to close permanently or on a long-term basis in the U.S. As a result, 3 million restaurant workers are now unemployed. With consumer spending down 34% and 60% of restaurants dealing with higher operational costs since the pandemic began, many restaurant owners (40%) don't expect to be around six months from now without government assistance.
"I think most people are hanging on to see what happens with the Restaurants Act. Every single day, we hear from constituents out there that they're closing their restaurants," Colicchio said.
As restaurants across the country begin to close, it begs the question: What happens to our economy and neighborhoods when these familiar establishments disappear?
"Restaurants anchor the communities and because they're there and open into the evening, it actually keeps crime down," Colicchio said. "I'm suspecting that if a lot of restaurants close, you're going to have problems with crime and it's going to be a huge hit to the economy."
Independent restaurants (those that aren't publicly traded and have fewer than 20 locations), employ upwards of 11 million people, according to Colicchio, and an estimated additional 6 million when you factor in farmers, fishermen, winemakers and cheesemakers. So the impact of a mass restaurant shutdown could be devastating.
"Those are jobs that are going to be lost and it's going to take a long time before they come back," he said.