Federal relief and COVID-19 vaccines are key to the restaurant industry’s stability in the coming months, experts on the region’s restaurant industry said Monday.
During a panel on the future of the industry, Marshall Weston, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, and Kathy Hollinger, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, discussed the possibility that information about long-awaited federal coronavirus relief will come sometime this week.
According to Weston, there’s a good chance that relief may include another round of the Paycheck Protection Program, a multibillion-dollar loan program Congress passed soon after the pandemic’s onset that many Maryland restaurateurs reported didn’t suit their needs at the time.
While PPP isn’t a perfect solution, Weston said, “at least it will be something. Getting something is more important than getting nothing.”
Hollinger agreed that although PPP may not be a perfect solution for restaurants at this juncture, it will give them more flexibility to weigh their options for the coming months, as cold weather forces restaurants to reconsider their outdoor dining setups.
Inevitably, she said, some restaurants will shut down until the spring, while others will continue operating as takeout and delivery businesses. But operators have to know what, if any, federal aid is available to them before they can make those choices.
She also encouraged restaurant owners to continue applying for any local aid and grant programs that they can find, due to the industry’s already slim profit margins and the uncertainty about what federal relief will look like.
Looking ahead towards restaurants’ eventual reopenings, Weston and Hollinger discussed industry leaders’ hopes that restaurant employees will be counted among the first workers to receive the vaccine, following health care workers, first responders and nursing home staff.
Weston noted that the National Restaurant Association first called on the federal government to prioritize restaurant workers for the vaccine back in July, when the organization published its Blueprint for Revival.
“We’ve been deemed essential, so we should be treated that way,” Hollinger agreed.
Though not all restaurant employees will necessarily be willing to take the vaccine, Paul Saval, the panel’s moderator and the president of Saval Foodservice, proposed a strategy in which all employees who are not willing to get vaccinated would be required to be tested once a week.
That being said, it’s likely that restaurants with fully vaccinated staffs will become the new gold standard for health and safety in the coming months, Saval said.
The panel was held as a part of Saval Foodservice’s virtual Megabite food showcase, a two-week event featuring industry speakers, giveaways and opportunities for customers to connect with food suppliers and brokers.