The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently voted to ban outdoor dining, forcing restaurants to revert operations, much like what was implemented in March, to take out, drive-thrus, and delivery options only.
One local restaurateur is looking to Congress for help. Caroline Styne, owner and wine director at The Lucques Group and member of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, has helped introduce legislation that would provide $120 billion in funding for restaurants.
Styne tells Inside the Issues The Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive, or RESTAURANTS Act of 2020, is a series of grants that would be available to restaurants both large and small, across the country. It would replace lost revenue and help pay for rent, salaries, suppliers, operational expenses, and personal protective equipment.
"For us, and the restaurants across the country, we're all in this situation where we're already faced with lower revenues and no profit whatsoever — actually running at losses. What we really need is aid to get through this. If we have to close our restaurants to help everybody, we'll do that, but we need the government to help us," she said. "We just need for the Senate to vote to pass something to not only provide relief for us and our employees, 11 million employees in the restaurant industry across the United States but also all of the unemployed people that are so desperate right now."
The IRC has been able to gain 214 congressional co-sponsors and 50 senators that have co-sponsored the legislation. The last legislation is awaiting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote.
The ban on outdoor dining has been a real blow to restaurants who have poured thousands into supplies and equipment to accommodate guests on patios and parking lots all across Southern California.
"It's actually been a colossal investment for me, for other restaurateurs around," Styne said. "I've seen what other people are doing. I've seen what we've done. I know at a.o.c, we invested $20,000 in just setting up our parking lot as a dining experience because you can't just put tables in a parking lot and expect your guests to want to eat there. We brought in a 15-foot olive tree and built fencing around and lighting, and of course, you have to bring in all of your IT work, too, which is expensive."
The restaurants have had to make sure there's a working internet connection outside, set up their point-of-sale systems, and purchase things such as outdoor heaters.
"We were about to spend $20,000 more just putting a clear covering over the top to prevent getting wet during the rain, which is coming," Styne said.
Styne said their restaurants have been operating at 60% of their typical revenues.
"So, we've all been operating at a loss just to tread our way through this, and now that's been pulled out from us, too," she said.
There was a sense among her and other restaurant owners that another shutdown may be inevitable. Still, many were hoping that the Southern California climate would pull them through, unlike other major cities where restaurants are closing due to extreme weather changes.
The order to shut down outdoor dining was implemented a day before Thanksgiving. Although none of Styne's restaurants were planning the traditional meal for in-person dining, she knows many owners whose businesses came to a halt just before the holiday.
"You invest an incredibly large amount of money in the inventory just for Thanksgiving, and your revenues for that day can really make up for an entire month of low revenues. It can make up for a slow summer by having a really, really strong Thanksgiving," she explained. "I know a lot of people who were faced with having to either donate all of their product or, potentially, sell all that to go to other guests, but I know a lot of their guests canceled all their reservations and didn't want to take it out. So, it's financially devastating on top of everything."
What the restaurant industry needs, Styne said, is for leaders to speak up for them.
"We need our elected officials to be doing what our city and our businesses, large and small, need to get through this, and it also means that their voices can echo all the way up to the Senate chamber," she said. "The more support, the better. We need people to be vocal about it. This is not a time to just sit back and just let things happen."
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