Illinois restaurants are facing a second winter with COVID-19 complications. An employee at the Clevelander bar and restaurant on Ocean Drive stacks chairs as they have shut down due to public health concerns caused by COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic, Monday, July 13, 2020, in Miami Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky/AP)

COVID-19 concerns mean another tough winter for restaurants

Zeta Cross, The Center Square contributor October 13, 09:00 AM October 13, 09:00 AM

Illinois restaurants are facing a second winter with COVID-19 complications.

The uptick in cases of COVID-19 due to the delta variant has made six out of 10 restaurant patrons more reluctant to eat out than they were earlier this year, a new survey released by the National Restaurant Association has found.

Thirty-seven percent of restaurant goers who were surveyed said they have reverted to take-out and delivery rather than choosing indoor dining. A troubling 19% of people surveyed said they have stopped eating out altogether.

Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, is pushing hard for refunding of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to help restaurants make it through the winter.

“Restaurants need your support,” Toia said. “Restaurants are the soul of every neighborhood.”

Even in good times, 95 to 97% of every dollar that a restaurant takes in goes right back out the door for labor costs, product costs and fixed costs, Toia said. COVID-19 mandates that restrict the number of people who can eat inside make restaurant business plans unfeasible.

“You put your business model together with 200 seats, and then you get cut to 100 seats. It’s not going to work,” Toia said.

To keep their doors open, restaurants have leaned on curbside pickup and delivery.

In spite of Illinois’ frigid winters, restaurants have heated their patios and built igloos and other shelters to provide outdoor dining options.

“People have grown accustomed to eating outside, and I think that is going to be with us for a while,” Toia said.

When it comes to profitability, Toia said, curbside pickup and outdoor seating options can only take restaurants so far. Ninety thousand restaurants across the nation closed their doors. More federal aid is critical, Toia said.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28 billion dollar program, was established under the American Rescue Plan Act this past winter to provide restaurants, bars, food trucks and caterers with funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss. The fund ran out of money in June. Only one-third of applicants received payments.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act (H.R.3807/S.2091) is now before Congress. The bill would add an additional $60 billion to the RRF and ensure that restaurants and bars that qualify will receive grants.

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