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The Restaurant Industry: The Other COVID Fatality

You’re hearing it everywhere: this pandemic has really hurt small and local businesses. Perhaps one of the most impacted by COVID-19 restrictions has been the restaurant industry. Restaurants typically have extremely small profit margins, meaning any hit to their operations could spell disaster.

Nationally, the restaurant sector had already lost $120 billion in sales by May, only 2 months after the initial restrictions were enacted. The reach of this loss must be understood; a blow to this industry kills a large percentage of jobs, and hurts other businesses from florists, to food packagers, to liquor salesmen, and more.

The situation for restauranteurs is dire: Yelp reported that by May, 53% of the restaurants on their platform were now permanently closed, while OpenTable said one in four were at risk of foreclosure. These numbers were when other options, like outdoor dining, were available. As we move into the winter months, it is difficult to grasp the impact this may have.

Governor Carney’s new COVID-19 restrictions limiting restaurant capacity to 30% went into effect on November 23. This new Executive Order will further cripple an entire industry that has been struggling—and failing—due to similar orders for eight months.

These businesses cannot survive on takeout alone, which may soon be the case. The 100% costs of staying open aren’t covered by the 30% of sales they are able to bring in. For many, this year was the one in which their business, livelihood, and dreams shut down forever. According to the Delaware Restaurant Association, up to 30 percent of restaurants could close if they do not receive assistance.

If only 1.44% of Delaware’s positive COVID cases in November visited a bar, and 4.63% a restaurant, why are we targeting this industry?

The Delaware Restaurant Association reports close to 2,000 eating and drinking locations in the state, which provide around 50,000 jobs and $2 billion in sales. This sector is the largest small business employer in Delaware. Carrie Leishman, President of the Delaware Restaurant Association, estimates thousands of workers losing their jobs around the holidays due to the new limit.

Meanwhile, retail and other industries have operated without issue, despite being a major catalyst for public crowds. Black Friday produced a packed crowd at the Christiana Mall, even in the food court. The absolutely arbitrary parameters of what has made a business “essential” is precisely what is killing this massive industry nationwide.

Delaware’s economy cannot shoulder this burden. Pre-pandemic, we were ranked 34th for employment and one of the worst states for small business. Now we face hundreds or thousands more jobs on the chopping block with less unemployment assistance from the state than before. The Delaware restaurant industry has received about $25 million in state assistance so far, and anticipates $25 million more. Unfortunately, it may not be enough to counter the restrictions.

Add in the newly drafted minimum wage bill and other costly proposed employer mandates that are likely to be brought forth for a vote in the 2021 Legislative Session, and our restaurants—and the jobs that they offer—may never recover. It is far past time to take action and save livelihoods, not just lives.