Restaurants, as much if not more than any other business, have suffered greatly during the pandemic. They were forced to close for indoor dining for months, struggled to find workers, and were hit by rising wholesale food prices.
As of March of this year, more than 10% of restaurants nationwide had been forced to close permanently, unable to limp any longer, including dozens of restaurants in Chicago.
Now a Chicago aldermen group is calling for a new restriction on Chicago restaurants – a requirement that anyone who dines inside must show proof of vaccination – and the restaurant industry is understandably angry. . Enforce that rule, they warn, and watch more and more restaurants close their doors for good, especially as the weather gets colder and al fresco dining becomes less of an option.
Our own view is that proof of vaccination should be mandatory for people who wish to participate in almost all indoor public activities. Vaccinated people should be entitled to privileges that are not granted to unvaccinated people.
If we are to ever beat this pandemic, we have to get tougher on the wildly unvaccinated people.
But there is also no doubt that it should be done in a way that, where possible, minimizes the damage to small businesses. And when it comes to restaurants, that should mean a generous replenishment of federal pandemic relief funds – in the form of grants, not loans – to help thousands of independent restaurants stay afloat.
As part of the US bailout package enacted by President Joe Biden in March 2021, a $ 28.6 billion restaurant revitalization fund was created to help struggling restaurants.
More than 370,000 restaurant owners have asked for grants – powerful proof that the industry is being hammered home – asking for a total of $ 75 billion. Sadly, only around 105,000 companies eventually got some of the bailout money, with demand significantly outstripping supply. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was emptied on June 30.
Now Representative Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, is proposing that Congress pour an additional $ 60 billion into the Restaurant Rescue Fund, new money that can’t come soon enough. We actually think Congress should do even more – add $ 90 billion to the fund, as many restaurant industry experts have called for – to prevent more restaurant closings.
A poll this month by the Independent Restaurant Coalition found that 82% of restaurants nationwide fear closing their doors if there is no additional federal bailout funding.
In the past, the Illinois Restaurant Association has praised Mayor Lori Lightfoot and his administration for communicating well with local restaurateurs, giving out grants, and paving the way for restaurants to fully reopen in June – before any other major American city. But restaurant owners warn that requiring restaurants to require proof of vaccination for indoor dining, a measured safety offered by eight aldermen in a September 9 letter to Chicago’s health commissioner Dr Allison Arwady. , could be devastating.
âWe have always been concerned about the health and safety of our team members and our customers, but we should think about small restaurants that cannot turn down a group of five if two people are not vaccinated,â Sam Toia, President and Chief Executive Officer. of the Illinois Restaurant Association, told the Sun-Times editorial board. âRefusing them means they could lose a $ 150 bill that could have put them through the night. “
No one should take these concerns lightly. We certainly don’t.
Among the restaurants that closed permanently this month, in large part due to the pandemic, were black-owned barbecue restaurant Lexington Betty Smokehouse on the Near West Side, sports bar Wise Owl Drinkery & Cookhouse in the West Loop; and Moonlight Vulture vegan sandwich shop in Avondale.
But we think the best way to help the restaurant industry would be a new big, quick infusion of federal bailouts. Allowing the pandemic to drag on or worsen, as new variants of the coronavirus emerge, by softening public safety measures would, in the long run, only do more harm to the restaurant industry – and to all of us – more.
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