U.S. House Passes $55 Billion in COVID Aid for Restaurants
This week. The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a $55 billion COVID-19 aid bill aimed at helping restaurants, bars and other businesses that are still struggling through the pandemic. By a vote of 223-203, the House approved the measure earmarking $42 billion for restaurants that have applied for aid but not received it because a $28.6 billion fund is depleted. The measure, which has not yet been considered by the Senate, was moving through the House as Congress was about to embark on a nearly three-week spring recess. The legislation was supported by only a handful of Republicans. Democrats argued that the measure will not add to U.S. budget deficits because it would be financed with funds recouped from fraudulent claims under the program that was created a year ago in Democratic President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan legislation. That $1.9 trillion law provided coronavirus aid and stimulus for the U.S. economy.
Biden Administration Shows Support for Ending Subminimum Wage
Shine a light on the plight of servers. The Biden-Harris administration is absolutely committed to ensuring that essential workers are valued, respected and treated as the heart of our economy. The Biden-Harris administration is absolutely committed to taking this moment we are in and ensuring that essential workers are valued, respected and treated as the heart of our economy the way we know them to be. Restaurant work and any work that relies on tipped wage necessarily puts workers in a precarious situation. It is a problem of economic security; it is a problem of being too dependent on a customer base, and there’s no way for a worker to know at the end of the day how much they’re going to earn. This leads to a whole series of insecurity and precarity that we should not have in our economy.
Q1 2022 Legal Update
DOL revises tip rule (again). On December 28, 2021, the Department of Labor revoked its 2020 Tip Final Rule and passed a new Final Rule. The new Final Rule not only revives the 80/20 Rule, with modifications, but also adds a “30-Minute” Rule. Under that rule, an employer may not take a tip credit when a tipped employee spends more than 30 continuous minutes performing non-tipped side work. Restaurants must be aware of all the recordkeeping requirements under the rule, or risk penalties. On December 28, 2021, the Department of Labor revoked its 2020 Tip Final Rule and passed a new Final Rule. The new Final Rule not only revives the 80/20 Rule, with modifications, but also adds a “30-Minute” Rule. Under that rule, an employer may not take a tip credit when a tipped employee spends more than 30 continuous minutes performing non-tipped side work. Restaurants must be aware of all the recordkeeping requirements under the rule, or risk penalties.
RoboBurger Launches Fully Automated Burger Prep Concept
In New Jersey. RoboBurger, the world’s first fully autonomous robotic burger chef, launched last month with a ribbon cutting at the Newport Centre, a Simon Mall in Jersey City, NJ. This restaurant in miniature cooks restaurant-quality freshly grilled burgers from scratch, and it will soon be heading to airports, malls, colleges, offices, factories, and military bases across the country. RoboBurger is launching its first unit in Newport Mall, in Jersey City. Locals will be able to have a hot, fresh, restaurant quality burger at the press of a button, at any time of day – or night. “RoboBurger is like having a personal chef for 6 minutes, which dedicates all its attention to making YOUR burger, with the perfectly grilled patty, and a crispy, fresh toasted bun,” noted RoboBurger co-founder and CEO Audley Wilson. “Our system has the fastest grill to hand technology in the industry. You can get a fresh, piping hot burger, right off the grill, 30 seconds after it’s ready. That’s our secret to excellent taste. The best part? RoboBurger is plug and play, needing only an electric plug to function and that allows us to make fresh burgers.”
Restaurant Catering Rebounds
With lessons learned. The COVID-19 pandemic slammed the brakes on traditional catering, but operators quickly adjusted their offerings to meet new demands and serve new customers in the form of emergency workers and homebound families. And now, many of the changes that restaurants implemented during the pandemic — such as individually packaged meals in lieu of buffet-style service — are expected to remain in place, operators said. Overall, restaurants are bullish on their catering programs, citing efficiencies in their menus and lessons learned from their refined focus on off-premises dining. Catering sales have increased throughout 2021 and into 2022, he said, as consumers have become more comfortable dining in groups and as businesses have welcomed back their workers. In the meantime, the company updated its catering menu design, made some upgrades to its packaging and partnered with Olo to launch an online catering ordering platform that is fully integrated with its POS.
New Yorkers Are Turning to Dinner Party-Style Restaurants
To make friends and find dates. At its peak, the pandemic changed the way New Yorkers were able to socialize. But a growing number of restaurants and pop-ups are helping diners reconnect in a way that was strained for much of the past few years. Group-friendly dining, while nothing new in NYC, is seeing a resurgence with more communal set-ups that encourage people to mingle, make friends, and even hook up. When it came to opening her first restaurant, owner Cami Jetta of Fort Greene restaurant Dinner Party deliberately placed strangers at what might have previously been considered the “dreaded group dining table.” It was not an immediate hit when it first launched last summer. She attributed the initial hesitation to mixed attitudes toward COVID-19 guidelines, as well as potentially lingering feelings of social anxiety during the pandemic. These days, Jetta says, she can barely tell which groups came together or solo as they eat a rack of lamb or a rhubarb Eton mess. “I think it’s been really encouraging that in the past couple months the interest is really growing — at first it felt like when we sat [strangers] communally they weren’t really talking to each other,” she says. “I feel vindicated in my belief in the restaurant that people do want to meet their neighbors.”
How the Pandemic has Changed Philly’s Restaurants
COVID-19 has left indelible marks on the industry. In 2020, Erin Thorum and her husband had never hiked a mile in their lives. The restaurant-industry veterans of almost 20 years each were too busy for that. Flash-forward to 2022 and they’re mapping out a celebratory trip for Thorum’s 40th birthday: hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. It’s all thanks to the pandemic, she says. “We were forced to start going outside during quarantine. And all of a sudden, we found this hobby that we fell in love with.” For Thorum, now working at Stickman Brews in Royersford, that discovery symbolizes something larger: She has reordered her priorities. Last month, Philadelphia’s restaurant industry marked two years since the city ground to a halt, kicking off a series of transformations that changed so much, from how menus are designed to how customers interact with staff. The Inquirer asked several industry sources to reflect on those changes. Here are some key takeaways.
NYC Restaurants and Bars Can Officially Sell Takeout Cocktails Again
Takeout cocktails are back. New York restaurants and bars can once again sell cocktails for takeout. The popular program, which started as a temporary emergency measure following the state shutdown of restaurants and bars in 2020, passed on Thursday afternoon as part of the state budget, according to Crain’s New York Business. The program isn’t the permanent takeout cocktail legislation Gov. Kathy Hochul was originally campaigning for — it expires after three years and includes a few notable concessions — but it’s still a massive win for food businesses across the state. Under the new legislation, customers will have to order a “substantial food item” with their drinks, and takeout beverages must be priced the same as if they were served to a seated customer, according to Crain’s. Bottles of liquor and wine, an additional source of revenue for many businesses during the pandemic, can no longer be sold for takeout or delivery under the new legislation.
Did You Know?
Top five ways to get ice machine peak performance for the summer. For customers of restaurants, bars, and other eateries, ice is a minimum expectation, especially during the hot summer months. Owners and managers who’ve experienced a broken-down machine or reduced production all too keenly feel the urge to ensure their ice maker is operating at peak performance, especially in the season when they need it most. Luckily, there are a few steps that can be taken to ensure the ice maker is running optimally for the higher demands of summertime.
The Experience Paradox. “I just don’t understand,” the restaurant owner lamented as we discussed a recent customer incident. “he said he was excited to finally be able to eat inside again . . . and then five minutes later, he storms out because we can’t seat him right away. Doesn’t he realize how short staffed we are?!” It’s a dilemma vexing restaurants across the country. On the one hand, consumers are craving unique human experiences with food more than ever before. Two years of COVID restrictions have reminded all of us just how important in-person dining is to our daily lives. On the other, consumer expectations for those experiences have never been greater—we want quality food that is fast, cheap, and customized to our every need. I call it the “experience paradox.” What’s going on and how can restaurants respond?
Bielat Santore & Company – Restaurant Industry Alert
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