What Biden’s Coronavirus Plan Might Mean for Texas Restaurants

As January swooshes by, there is still much to ponder about what the rest of 2021 will bring for restaurants. Yes, more restaurants are planned to open. Indeed we’re looking forward to a great many of them. But for many independents, the future is not promised. The beginning of a new year was never going to erase the struggles of 2020.

There is no doubt that the restaurant industry consists of a hardy bunch. Simply look at Khao Noodle Shop chef-owner Donny Sirisavath’s forthcoming takeout-only restaurant and José’s new ghost kitchen. And as Homewood chef Matt McCallister told SideDish recently, “[C]hefs, cooks—in fact all [hospitality staff]—are pretty well versed at changing direction, adjusting, and pivoting on a regular basis. That’s just the general nature of our industry daily…. I don’t think we are out of this yet, and I still don’t plan to depend on another bailout. My hope is that we all come out of this with a better perspective and have the opportunity to make changes in ourselves and with our teams for the better.”

President Joe Biden released details on his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan last week. “Black- and Brown-owned small businesses, and those in hard-hit industries like restaurants, hotels, and the arts, have suffered disproportionately,” it says, and refers to its proposed $15 billion grant program to help over 1 million of the hardest hit small businesses, many of which are restaurants, recover. They’ll need that support.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last month “only got worse.” The report says the country lost 498,000 leisure and hospitality jobs in December, including nearly 372,000 jobs at restaurants and bars. According to the Texas Restaurant Association, restaurants have lost nearly three times more jobs than any other industry, which for Texas means 700,000 jobs and $4.2 billion in revenue. In Texas, as of October 2020, employment rates in leisure and hospitality decreased by 21.2 percent compared to last January (it’s the hardest industry by far).

Biden’s plan—not yet passed by Congress—also suggests raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, eliminating the practice of using tips to meet wage minimums, and of paying people with disabilities less than the federal minimum. All of which would affect food service workers.

Organizations like the TRA and the Independent Restaurant Coalition have been pushing Congress to help restaurants for months. Throughout 2020, the IRC has been championing its RESTAURANTS Act, which establishes a $120 billion Independent Restaurant Revitalization Fund to award grants to small restaurants and bars impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. For the first time in a long time, it seems aid of some kind is possible. The IRC said in a statement that Biden’s plan “gives hopes to [the] devastated industry.”

A version of this story was published in the SideDish newsletter. Sign up here so you don’t miss the latest food and drink news and stories.

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