Now that restrictions on restaurants have been loosened to permit 50% capacity for dine-in service, the battered hospitality industry has a little more ability to fight for survival, while still hemorrhaging enormous amounts of cash.
But allowing the industry to die slowly during a global pandemic is not the kind of help we need. We need far more financial relief than the state and federal governments have approved so far.
Last week's jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a net loss of 140,000 jobs in December weighed down by a whopping loss of 498,000 jobs in the hospitality industry. A National Restaurant Association survey reported an average 36% loss in annual revenue compared to 2019. Losses in colder climates like Minnesota are likely higher.
There is no doubt that the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 and the cost of public safety during this pandemic have unfairly burdened our industry. But more importantly, this has been done without just compensation from our government.
In the editorial "Party of 6? Your Table is Ready" (Jan. 9) the Star Tribune Editorial Board argues "It's true that the situation in which those businesses find themselves is unfair. The unfairness, though, is not a product of the sensible restrictions imposed by the governor. It's the virus itself that isn't fair."
This dismisses the fact that, with these restrictions, restaurants have essentially been forced to finance public safety during the pandemic. While a small minority of owners protest the restrictions as "unconstitutional," the vast majority are not arguing against these sensible restrictions.
We are asking for just compensation.
The $15,000 to $45,000 one-time state grants approved last month were long overdue and are also inadequate when some restaurants are losing that amount each month under these restrictions. And the Paycheck Protection Program is ill-suited for restaurants that are not allowed to fully operate. While the "virus itself isn't fair," our government should be.
Almost a year into the pandemic there is still very little meaningful movement toward making the industry whole for its sacrifices. An inadequate second round of PPP is on the way. But since last May, Congress has been sitting on the Restaurants Act, a $120 billion bill that would provide significant grants to the hardest hit restaurants.
The Minnesota Legislature has denied even the simplest relief options, such as sales tax forgiveness or allowing the sale of cocktails to go (which would cost taxpayers nothing). The Legislature, with help from Congress, has the ability provide meaningful, financial relief to restaurants. Unfortunately, they choose not to.
Jamie Robinson is owner of Northbound Smokehouse and Brewpub in Minneapolis.