Congress Adopts $1.9 Trillion Stimulus
Authorizing a flurry of new federal spending. The bill, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, authorizes another round of stimulus payments up to $1,400 for most Americans; extends additional, enhanced unemployment aid to millions still out of work; and makes major changes to the tax code to benefit families with children. It couples the new pandemic relief with what Democrats have come to describe as one of the most robust legislative responses to poverty in a generation, seeking to assist low-income families who struggled financially long before the coronavirus took root. Lawmakers also set aside tens of billions of dollars to fund coronavirus testing, contact tracing and vaccine deployment, as they aim to deliver on Biden’s recent promise to produce enough inoculations for “every adult in America” by the end of May. And the stimulus bill approves additional funds to help schools reopen, allow restaurants and businesses to stay afloat and assist state and local governments trying to meet their own financial needs.
NJ Increasing Indoor Capacity
Including restaurants and bars. New Jersey health officials on Wednesday reported another 3,047 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 56 additional confirmed deaths as the state prepares for additional reopening steps next week with the increase to 50% capacity for indoor businesses including restaurants, bars, gyms, casinos and personal care services at salons and spas. Gov. Phil Murphy announced the latest updates during a coronavirus briefing in Trenton. In addition to the business changes, the number of people allowed to gather indoors will increase from 10 to 25 people and the outdoor gathering cap will double to 50 people beginning March 19.
Independent Restaurants Lobbied Hard for Targeted Economic Relief
Now, they’re finally getting it. On Saturday, as many Americans were enjoying a weekend, Tom Colicchio was on a Zoom call with about 30 members of the Independent Restaurant Coalition. They were watching the Senate vote on the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the $1.9 trillion package to provide economic relief for millions of businesses and individuals, including the ailing restaurant industry. Shortly after noon, senators passed the bill along party lines, all but ensuring that once the U.S. House votes on the Senate-amended rescue plan, which it is poised to do on Wednesday, independent restaurant operators will finally see some targeted relief money, to the tune of $28.6 billion. For the IRC, which formed as the pandemic was just sinking its teeth into the American economy, the vote capped a grueling, year-long effort to seek direct grants for a hospitality industry that in the past 12 months has shed 2 million jobs, lost an estimated $240 billion in revenue and seen 110,000 establishments close.
Enough Vaccine for Every Adult
What Biden’s revelation could mean for restaurants. President Joe Biden revealed Tuesday that enough vaccine should be available by the end of May to inoculate every adult American against COVID-19—the closest his administration has come to calculating an end to the crisis. He called the upsurge in supply the “light at the end of the tunnel.” How will that shape the path back to normal for the restaurant business, an industry widely regarded as one of the crisis’ most serious casualties? Here are four possibilities to consider: ‘Can do’ doesn’t mean ‘will be done.’ As Biden himself acknowledged, the challenge is not just having enough vaccine available, but also getting it into the arms of consumers and workers. That aspect of safeguarding the population is still being addressed, with 7,000 pharmacies and several hundred mass inoculation sites now functioning as distribution points. Still, less than 8% of the population has rolled up its sleeve to date. All things considered, the president said, “normal” may not return until a year from now.
U.S. Restaurants Lead February Job Gains
As States ease restrictions. The food service industry gained 286,000 jobs, but there are still over 2 million fewer people working in restaurants now compared with pre-pandemic highs. As more people around the country receive COVID-19 vaccinations and as some states reduce capacity restrictions for indoor dining, the hospitality industry is beginning to show signs of life again. Bars and restaurants gained 286,000 jobs nationwide in February, following three straight months of losses or tepid growth, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in its monthly employment survey this morning. Those increases reflected the bulk of the 379,000 jobs that employers added throughout the U.S. economy last month. The unemployment rate for food service workers dropped to 12.2 percent. That’s down from a winter high of 16.1 percent, but it’s still roughly double the national jobless rate, and there are over 2 million fewer people working in the restaurant industry now compared with pre-pandemic highs.
How Restaurants Have Adjusted
To the new normal. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the restaurant and foodservice industry, and not only in terms of having to pivot to takeout and delivery service. Evolving sanitation demands, as well as dormant dining rooms and even dormant kitchens have given operators more challenges than ever before. Protecting their brand’s reputation while delighting their guests and optimizing operations has never been more of a juggling act, but thankfully, there are helpful partners that operators can work with to keep things moving forward. In terms of cleanliness, customer expectations have never been higher—based on an Ecolab post-COVID-19 vaccine consumer research study, 95% of consumers want to see as much or more cleaning and sanitation practices after the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed. Here’s how operators have been adapting to this call for a higher-level of cleanliness—and how their operations will continue to change as dining rooms open back up on a wider scale.
Indoor Dining Capacity Will Increase to 75% in N.Y.
Except for NYC. he permitted capacity for indoor dining in New York state will increase to 75% later this month — but only for restaurants outside of New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced during a Sunday media call. The rest of the state already allows 50% capacity for indoor dining. Indoor dining in New York City recently increased from 25% to 35% as of Feb. 26. Cuomo said at the time that the 35% limit was selected to “be consistent” with what is allowed across the river in New Jersey. Cuomo pointed to nearby states that are allowing for 100% capacity at restaurants, including Massachusetts and Connecticut. Cuomo said the state feels 75% is “what the consumer is ready for.”
Covid-19-Closed Restaurants Are Reopening
Running them is still a battle. A year into the pandemic, restaurants’ wish is coming true: State and local governments are allowing them to seat and serve customers indoors again. But that comes with its own challenges. Every state in the country now permits some level of indoor dining. Even heavily restrictive states including Michigan, Illinois and California are reversing dine-in bans that were imposed late last year to try to curb a surge in coronavirus cases. Some restaurant operators said the new uncertainties represent another daunting phase of the pandemic, and one they can’t foresee ending soon. Those whose businesses survived the past year said they are struggling to predict how many patrons will come back, and how fast. They also have no template for how much food to buy, staff to retain and which pandemic-related changes to keep.
Drive-Through That Predict Your Order
Restaurants are thinking fast. Inspired by pandemic lessons that kept customers in cars, chains are adding more lanes and curbside pickup, improving apps and testing menu boards that use artificial intelligence. Starbucks has employees at hundreds of busy locations strolling through car lines, taking orders with hand-held devices so customers can get their caffeine fix a few seconds faster. Shake Shack, which has long emphasized that quality ingredients are worth waiting a few extra minutes for, will soon feature its first drive-through window. And the vast majority of new Chipotles this year will have “Chipotlanes,” where customers can drive up to a window and pull away with preordered meals in less than a minute. With dining room restrictions in place for much of the country during the pandemic, drive-through and pickup windows became critical ways for a variety of restaurants to remain afloat.
Millennials Splurging on Steaks and Wine
Are fueling NYC’s indoor dining scene. Restaurant owners in the city told Bloomberg’s Kate Krader that although many diners still prefer outdoor dining, young adults are more likely to eat inside – and they’re splurging while doing so. Nearly a year of restaurant deprivation and a decline in restaurant hopping amid restrictions is causing the cohort to shell out for high-priced items like steak, wine, and tasting menus, sending check averages and tips on the climb, restaurateurs told Krader. Tip averages increased from 19% to 21% at Il Buco and Alimentari, she reported. It’s all a sign of life for restaurants since February. Daily revenue across dine-in, takeout, and delivery declined in February, as did number of seated guests, per a UBS research note. Americans have continued to eat more at home amid cold weather, according to a recent Bank of America note. “There is a significant amount of pent-up demand to eat out again as consumers are tired and bored of cooking at home,” states Bank of America.”
Did You Know?
With restaurants’ reduced demand, you can find wines at a discount — if you know where to look. Shoppers scanning the shelves at Tower Wine & Spirits in Atlanta the past few months have spotted some bargains. Elyse Winery’s Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, for example, from the Rutherford appellation in Napa Valley, sported a vivid red slash through its normal price of $75 pointing to its discounted price of $46. “There are some smoking-good deals for consumers, if they know what to look for,” says Jeff Leiker, a buyer for Tower’s two stores in the Atlanta area. “It’s a great time to get to know your local wine retailer.” In yet another effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the wine market, consumers who have not been economically affected have an opportunity to score some deals. After all, $46 for a Napa cabernet is not inexpensive, but it’s a lot cheaper than $75. If you’re looking to build a collection or resupply the cellar you’ve been drinking down in anticipation of the end of the world, now’s the time to look for bargains.
13 ways to get out of debt. In 2020, Fidelity reported that the majority of people who were making financial resolutions for the new year wanted to achieve a debt-free life. While fortunes have shifted during the coronavirus pandemic, it is still a very worthy goal. Not sure how to get out of debt? You have options. Don’t play tug of war with your money. Get out of debt and align your finances on your side! Based on my experience, there are quite a few methods for getting out of debt. Some require brute force; others discipline and there are even methods that are fairly passive and pain-free. Find the right way for you to get out of debt.
Bielat Santore & Company – Restaurant Industry Daily Alerts
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Bielat Santore & Company teamed up with SCORE NJ, the states’ largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors to present a series of webinars on small business financing for the hospitality industry. The initial March 4th webinar was well-attended and well-received. The second webinar in the 3-part series will take place on Thursday, March 25th at 10:00am. Sign up now!
Restaurant Rap Video Interviews
Next week will mark the 365th day since restaurants and all other deemed non-essential businesses were locked down by State mandate. As the lock down kept businesses closed, Bielat Santore & Company initiated its “Restaurant Rap” series. That series presented recorded virtual video interviews with local restauranteurs and other industry professionals, many of whom were the firm’s clients, customers, and associates. The interviews focused on the challenges and obstacles business owners were facing during the early stages of the pandemic. Starting next week, Bielat Santore & Company will restart its “Restaurant Rap” interview series and examine how these professionals have endured and outlasted the pandemic over the past year. Look for the first in this revived series next week in an interview with Angelo DiCapua, owner/operator of MJ’s Restaurants.