Two-Thirds of Restaurant Employees Have Lost Their Jobs Due to COVID-19, National Restaurant Association Says

The trade group is calling on Congress to provide additional relief specifically for the restaurant industry.

The coronavirus pandemic has decimated the American restaurant industry. Faced with closures across the country—from independent restaurants to large chains—putting numbers on the damage can feel impossible. But the industry trade group the National Restaurant Association has tried—and the results are striking.

“The restaurant industry, more than any other industry in the nation, has suffered the most significant sales and job losses since the COVID-19 outbreak began,” the association’s Restaurant Industry Impact Survey, released yesterday, begins. Based on a poll of more than 6,500 operators nationwide from April 10 to 16, the report found that two-thirds of all restaurant employees have lost their jobs: over eight million furloughs and layoffs in total. And these figures are despite the survey finding that over half—six out of 10—restaurants are still open. The implication is clear: Even when restaurants are able to survive with options like takeout and delivery, they are still being forced to let workers go.

Some Restaurants Close, Others See Increase in Sales
An employee of Carmelina's in the North End of Boston tapes up paper in the windows of the restaurant, which is temporarily closing during the coronavirus pandemic, on March 25, 2020. Boston Globe / Contributor/Getty Images

In a letter addressed to congressional leaders, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs Sean Kennedy explained, “On March 18, we wrote you warning of a bleak outlook for the restaurant industry […] as the pandemic was unfolding. One month later, we have a clearer picture of the severe challenges that lie ahead, and ask for a focused solution on behalf of an industry that is a vital part of every community.”

Before the pandemic, the National Restaurant Association predicted 2020 sales would be $899 billion. This latest report cuts those numbers by over a quarter, suggesting the industry will face $240 billion in losses by the end of the year. That includes an estimated $30-plus billion in lost revenue in March and a projected $50-plus billion in lost revenue in April alone.

To deal with this impact, the association is asking Congress to consider its new “Blueprint for Recovery”—requesting “targeted relief for the second largest private sector employer […] that has in the past been one of the slowest to bounce back from downturns.” The group’s survey also found that over 60 percent of restaurant owners said that the federal relief already enacted wouldn’t be enough to prevent further layoffs. Instead, the National Restaurant Association wants the industry to receive its own recovery fund worth $240 billion, as well as additional relief including fixing the beleaguered Paycheck Protection Program, a tax credit or grant to aid restaurants as they adhere to new health guidelines when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and other federal measures.

“For an industry with sales that exceed the agriculture, airline, railroad, ground transportation, and spectator sports industries combined, a restaurant relief and recovery program is desperately needed,” Kennedy writes in his letter. “Every restaurant model, from the beloved corner diner, to the favorite independent restaurant, to the well-known chain has an uncertain future as economic damage wrecks an industry that is only marginally profitable even in the best of times.”

Learn more about ways you can help restaurant workers here.

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