Financial Assistance & Relief Options for Restaurant Owners and Employees during the COVID-19 Pandemic Crisis

By the time you read this, there will undoubtedly be a number of cities and states that have joined the list banning restaurants and bars from offering in-house service. It’s taken us all by surprise, the depth and breadth of the looming COVID-19 crisis, and the extent to which we are required to go, in order to keep the virus at bay. In its wake, we are left with both employers and employees wondering how they will get through the closures. Some are even uncertain how they will afford the essentials of living such as food and shelter.

Let’s first take a look at the cities and states that have mandated restaurants and bars to delivery and/or take out only, and then sort through the relief efforts that federal, state, and city regulators, and even private citizens, are implementing.

States Banning In-House Dining in Restaurants

On Sunday, March 15, Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert, recommended a temporary shutdown of all restaurants and bars across the nation. Many followed suit—in fact, over 26 states have now banned dine-in service in restaurants. Here is a list of those that have acted upon the proposal.

Illinois and Ohio were the first two states to order the closure of bars and mandate delivery-only service for restaurants.

California has seen a surge of new cases across multiple counties. Areas that have closed bars and limited restaurants to delivery include Orange County, Palm Springs and Sacramento. In addition to restaurants and bars, Los Angeles Country, home to 88 cities, closed fitness centers and movie theaters. Seven counties in the San Francisco Bay Area took more drastic steps by ordering most businesses to close and residents to “shelter-in-place.”

New York ordered restaurants to offer only takeout or delivery. The State Liquor Authority, however, passed a temporary ruling allowing restaurants and bars to include wine and liquor for takeout or delivery when they sell it with food.

Other states that have now banned dining-in include: Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Washington, Washington, D.C., Wisconsin, and Utah.

According to the National Restaurant Association, sales are expected to decline by $225 billion during the next three months, and five to seven million jobs in the industry will be lost.

Relief Options for Those Affected


On March 18, a federal coronavirus relief bill was signed by President Trump. The bill includes 10 days of paid sick leave for employees that become ill due to COVID-19. It becomes required of all businesses with less than 500 employees while those with less than 50 can request a waiver. Also included is extended leave to take care of a family member who has become ill. This was the first of many bills expected from Congress. Others provide all Americans with relief money, provide financial support for small businesses, and aid victims of the downturn.

The Housing Finance Agency has “directed mortgage loan companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to defer foreclosures and evictions for at least 60 days.”

The National Restaurant Association has asked the federal government to provide $145 billion in direct relief to help restaurants, bars and their employees. They have also requested deferments of leases, mortgage and loan payments, $130 million in emergency unemployment assistance, and $35 billion in disaster relief for those regions that have been hit the hardest.

States and cities are also anteing up and helping those business owners and employees affected by COVID-19.

States and Cities

Los Angeles County announced a moratorium on all no-fault residential and commercial evictions. This went into effect March 4 and continues until May 31. Once the emergency ends, renters will have 6 months to pay back the rent.

Restaurant and bar owners located in Illinois requested emergency unemployment benefits for all workers, rent and loan abatement, and payroll tax elimination, according to Restaurant Business. They also asked that the government cap all third-party delivery fees to 10 percent.

Washington allocated $25 million to assist businesses affected by the mandatory social distancing orders. State officials also increased access to emergency and unemployment benefits, and delayed evictions due to non-payment of rent for at least 30 days. Emergency family assistance is now available for those without children. Washington has also put aside $5 million to help small businesses avoid closing.

New York has come up with some unique plans to support restaurants and their employees. Businesses that have seen sales decrease by 25 percent or greater are eligible for a zero interest loan of up to $75,000. Those with less than 5 employees are eligible for a grant that will cover 40 percent of payroll costs for two months.

Rethink has developed a New York Restaurant Response Program that will give up to 30 restaurants $40,000 to help them stay afloat.

Restaurants are also becoming creative when looking for solutions for their temporarily out-of-work employees. This includes turning to GoFundMe, a crowdfunding platform, to help raise money. Others are offering gift card purchases that will be refundable once the restaurant reopens with some or all of the proceeds going directly to their employees.

Give Local and the Dining Bond Initiative offer gift cards or certificates which can be redeemed at your favorite restaurant down the road. Dining Bonds are sold at a discount—25 percent less than face value.

One Fair Wage is asking for donations in order to provide immediate cash assistance to restaurant employees and delivery workers.

Worker Relief Funds have been started in various areas for restaurant and bar employees including Washington, DC, Colorado, and Illinois. In order to search for relief funds in your state, simply type in “Worker Relief Funds for Restaurant Employees in “your state.” You can also find an updated list of resources from Eater here.

Restaurant-Workers Community Foundation has started a COVID-19 Relief Fund for restaurant workers. This organization is raising funds that will provide relief to workers as well as create zero-interest loans.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) is providing resources and financial assistance to restaurant workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Change.org petition calls for industry leaders to develop a plan for supporting local restaurants during this crisis by providing emergency employment benefits, waiving payroll tax, supporting rent and loan abatements, and waving zoning or permit restrictions, as well as enable restaurants to sell alcohol with take out or delivery meals.

Additional Support and Recommendations

Many restaurants are taking advantage of the takeout or delivery-only option. A friend that works for a third-party delivery service recently picked up an order at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Wisconsin. They were so backed up with orders that it took an hour to fulfill. Restaurants without a developed delivery process may need to look to third-party vendors. Grubhub reported that they have suspended fees for “Qualified Independent Restaurants.”

Filing for Unemployment: 18 percent of homes in America have at least one family member who has lost their job or experienced reduced hours due to the current pandemic. State Labor Departments recommend filing your unemployment claim immediately. An example of what states are faced with includes New Jersey, a state that received 15,000 applications in just one day.

Fortunately, the federal government has expanded eligibility to include employees that are quarantined or those whose businesses have temporarily closed down due to the current crisis. If denied, appeal.

While this current crisis is surreal to many and a nightmare to some, remember that this too shall pass. China recently announced that they are starting to see a return to normalcy. Starbucks recently reopened about 95 percent of their units in China, stating that they are using the same procedures that worked well with them over there, to fight the pandemic here at home.

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