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How to Help Restaurant Workers Cope with Crisis

As the federal social distancing guideline extends to Apr 30,  we are seeing more restaurant restrictions coming into place. The effects on the restaurant and hospitality industry have already been devastating. With mandatory quarantine measures in effect around the country, hundreds of thousands of restaurants have already closed their doors with no reopen date in sight. Some restaurants have managed to stay open by quickly transitioning to delivery-only service. Even so, most restaurants have had to lay off extra kitchen staff and their entire waitstaff.

All together, the industry is predicted to lose more jobs than any other sector. The National Restaurant Association has calculated that as many as 7 million jobs will be lost before the Coronavirus crisis is over.

Restaurant workers are not only facing the stress of the virus itself – how it could affect their own health or the health of vulnerable friends and family. They are also being faced with losing their job and income.

Anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry knows how tight-knit of a community it really is. Your restaurant coworkers and staff become a second family. Even customers can feel this tight-knit bond with their favorite local restaurants or cafes.

Now is the time that we all come together and take care of each other, like a family. Here’s how we can all help to support restaurant workers coping with this devastating crisis.

Government Level Response

The greatest impact we can make as individuals right now is our collective advocacy on behalf of the restaurant industry.

It is predicted that this year the restaurant industry as a whole will lose up to 25% of projected revenue. That comes out to $225 billion! When you scale this down to a local level though, the numbers look even worse.

While large multi-state restaurant chains might have the assets to weather this storm, the average independently-owned restaurant is already running on razor-thin margins. Even a few days of lost revenue can bankrupt these small restaurants and COVID-19 is likely to cause weeks if not months of lower revenue.

Restaurant-Specific Relief Aid

In order to support restaurant workers, we need to support the restaurants employing them. Despite being projected to lose more jobs than any other sector, the restaurant industry has been cut out of many government relief discussions. While the current relief package will likely offer support to individual restaurant workers, there is little detail on what support restaurant businesses can expect.

At the federal level, the National Restaurant Association is requesting a $455 billion aid package for the industry. This would include the creation of a $145 billion Restaurant and Foodservice Industry Recovery Fund. The fund would provide, among other things, $100 billion for federally backed business interruption insurance and $135 million for disaster unemployment assistance. Another $45 billion is being requested for individual business loans and $35 billion for federal community block grants.

At the state level, the industry is also mobilizing their efforts with many famous chefs lending their support and influence.

What we can all do – as restaurant owners, employees, or just loyal customers – is lend our support and voice to these proposals. Call your Senator, write to your representative, and sign the petitions at your local state level. Through our advocacy, we can show our politicians why the restaurant industry in particular requires support. Every small restaurant loan and grant given out means saved restaurant jobs.

Business Level Response

In an industry already prone to razor-thin margins, money is tight but across the country we are hearing stories about restaurants continuing to support their workers in any way they can.

Offer Paid Sick Leave

When it comes to paid sick leave, the restaurant industry falls far behind in terms of supporting workers. Only about 25% of food service workers have paid sick leave benefits.

For restaurants that can afford the extra expense, paid sick leave is the best way to support employees during crisis time. It encourages employees to stay home if they are feeling ill, therefore eliminating the risk of spreading the virus.

One restaurant owner taking this seriously is Joe Fugere, owner of Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Seattle. Fugere, in support of his restaurant workers, will be forgoing his paycheck for the foreseeable future. Instead, the money will be used to continue paying sick leave benefits for employees and to cover employee salaries during the crisis.

Re-evaluate Time Off Policies

For many restaurant workers, the fear of losing their jobs is at an all time high. If restaurant owners want to support their workers, now is the time to relax policies related to sick leave and time off. Giving employees flexible schedules is vital in a time of crisis.

If your restaurant usually requires a doctor’s note from employees before approving paid or unpaid time off, consider waiving the requirement, unless the company pays for the visit.

Another policy worth relaxing is your family leave or time-off requirements. Consider alternative shifts for hourly workers to accommodate their need to take care of their high risk family members and their childcare as well as parental duties. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act certain employees can take up to twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. Employees who know their job is protected and there for them when they get back are much more likely to take the time off they need.

Keep Communication Lines Open

The uncertain environment means making lots of difficult decisions as a restaurant business owner. Be open and honest with your employees, although you don’t have all the information in hand.

First, keep employees informed. If the business is struggling to stay open, let them know. If it looks like the business will close permanently, inform your employees as soon as possible. Remind employees of company benefits such as paid sick leave and time off policies. Employees who understand the overall company situation will be more prepared for whatever this crisis brings.

Make sure to train your employees on new health and safety policies. You can support your workers by making sure they have the tools and knowledge they need to keep themselves healthy and uninfected. Make sure your employees understand how to stay safe, whether they are in the kitchen or out making deliveries.

The health of your employees goes beyond avoiding the virus though. Many restaurant service workers are suffering under great mental strain. From worrying about elderly family members to worrying about whether they will have a job next week, aim to support your restaurant employees mental health as well. Let employees know you are open to talk and give them the space to reach out if they need to.

Community Level Response

While a government level response might help in the long run and a business level response might help in the short term, a large community response could be the key to saving the restaurant industry as we know it.

Keep Buying from Your Favorite Local Restaurant

Everyone can help support restaurant workers right now by continuing to spend money with restaurant businesses.

If the restaurants in your area are open, see if they are taking online orders and offering deliveries. If not, consider buying a gift card to the restaurant. The business will have your money now – to pay rent, employee sick leave, and time off – and you will get the chance to enjoy their food again after the crisis.

Directly Support Restaurant Workers

If you want to provide direct support to out-of-work restaurant employees, consider contributing to an online fundraiser or virtual tip jar. These are being set up in communities around the country with money going directly to restaurant workers affected by the crisis.

Before making a donation, make sure the fund is legitimate and that the money really is going to workers. A good way to find fundraisers and virtual tip jars is by following the social media accounts of local restaurants or celebrity chefs in your area.

Together We Can Survive

COVID-19 is easily the most devastating catastrophe to have ever hit the restaurant industry.

If you’re looking to take some action, Food Tank has put together a list of organizations that accept donations of food, money and volunteer hours to help restaurants, service workers and affected people during the pandemic.

Not all restaurants will make it through this. That’s the sad reality. What we all do now though could be the difference between millions of restaurant workers out of a job permanently or back at work in a few months.