The underlying problems have only intensified since I last wrote about the woes of the restaurant industry back in July. A grim report from the National Restaurant Association recently reported that 100,000 -- or nearly one in six -- eateries have closed half a year into this pandemic, and restaurants in New York and other chilly cities are already trotting out igloos and heat lamps in an effort to salvage the outdoor dining experiences that have helped them stay afloat so far.
But to use that tired phrase, winter is coming, and restaurants need a financial path forward, one that can survive icy temperatures and shorter days. For restaurant owners, employees, and everyone who loves eating a delicious meal, here are three ways we can weather the tough months ahead.
Grants, Loans, and Tax Credits
A new crop of funding opportunities is popping up to address the new challenges of outdoor dining in winter months. Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser has announced $6,000 grants to help eateries add tents, heaters, and marketing improvements. Another fund is a partnership between my company and DoorDash, which is funneling $5,000 grants to eligible restaurants in cities most affected by dine-in closures and winter weather. If you operate a restaurant in New York City, San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia, San Jose, or Chicago, you can apply here.
It's become clear that larger solutions are needed too. A National Restaurant Association survey found that a majority of owners are hoping any future relief package from Congress includes a tax credit for purchases such as heaters that would help winterize their outdoor spaces, and that there is strong demand for another round of funding from the Paycheck Protection Program. In the final days before Election Day, let's use our voice as a small-business community to lobby Washington to deliver on these requests.
Learn From Success
There are plenty of folks out there who are "doing the work" to keep the industry afloat whom we should all be watching and emulating. Ayesha and Stephen Curry, for example, have made impressive strides in Oakland, California, through their Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation, which has leveraged an impressive slate of corporate sponsorships to serve more than 10 million meals through a partnership with local food banks. The initiative has even helped rehire 850 Oakland restaurant workers to cook up meals for underserved residents, a testament to what can happen when big names use their resources to uplift their immediate community.
In another corner is Guy Fieri, the beloved chef and television personality, who has graciously volunteered his time to mentor small-business owners in this time of great need (anyone can apply for the Zoom mentorship session here). During the pandemic, the Mayor of Flavortown has also secured $21.5 million in relief for the now-closed Restaurant Employee Relief Fund -- a success that I think we can all learn from and build on.
Don't Forget to Support the Workers, Too
Many employee relief funds that popped up early in the pandemic have been tapped out, but organizations including the Southern Smoke Foundation continue to deliver essential funding to those in the food and beverage industry who need it most right now. SSF has donated millions to individuals since it was founded in 2017. There's also the One Fair Wage Emergency Fund, which helps restaurant workers and delivery workers get the cash they need to survive. Even if you aren't a hospitality worker in crisis, we should spread the word about these funds and donate what we can to bolster each organization's efforts. After all, our favorite neighborhood restaurants will only survive if we take care of the amazing service workers who make them hum.
Which brings me to my final point: If you do happen to dine out on a heated patio or in one of those igloos this winter, be sure to tip big. The future of date nights, birthday dinners, and spontaneous meals out might depend on it.