Nationwide Restaurant Affiliation asks Congress for assist amid omicron

On March 18, 2021, people in New York City dine at an outdoor dining patio set up at a restaurant.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

The National Restaurant Association is asking Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund as the Omicron variant hits operators’ businesses.

Last year, lawmakers set up the $28.6 billion fund to help bars and restaurants struggling in the wake of the crisis pandemic. The grants were intended to cover a restaurant’s total pandemic losses of up to $5 million for a single location or $10 million for a business with fewer than 20 locations. Public companies were not eligible, but their franchisees could still apply.

With the fund depleted, restaurants pressed for Congress to refill it. Several lawmakers have introduced legislation to do so, but the bills haven’t gained traction and the Biden administration didn’t seem interested in backing the measure.

but the recent spike in Covid-19 cases and its impact on restaurants could change minds.

The latest National Restaurant Association survey of operators found that 88% of restaurants saw a drop in demand for indoor dining due to the Omicron variant. More than three-quarters of those polled told the trade group that business conditions are worse now than they were three months ago. And the majority of operators said their restaurant is less profitable today than it was before the pandemic.

“Alarmingly, the industry has still not recovered the more than 650,000 jobs lost at the start of the pandemic, a loss 45% more than the closest industry,” trade group top lobbyist Sean Kennedy wrote in a letter to the Congress leadership for both parties .

Kennedy also noted the benefits of the first round of RRF grants. The trade group estimates the first round of funding saved more than 900,000 restaurant jobs, and 96% of recipients said the grant made it more likely they could stay in business. A full replenishment of the fund would save more than 1.6 million jobs, the trade group estimates.