Restaurants seek state aid amid outbreak: ‘There are going to be victims’

Restaurants seek state aid amid outbreak: ‘There are going to be victims’

Hundreds of restaurants and restauranteurs are asking state officials for a financial reprieve as they expect significant losses during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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by Allison DeAngelis  – Life Sciences Reporter, Boston Business Journal

The Massachusetts Restaurant Association, 50 top restaurateurs and more than 200 individual restaurants delivered a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker’s office Friday morning requesting a number of steps to be take. Among them are an increase in weekly unemployment payments from $823 to $1,200; shortening the unemployment insurance processing time; and suspending meal taxes for 30 days — all actions that the association believes the governor can take after declaring a state of emergency on March 10.

Baker’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter on Friday afternoon.

Restaurants, particularly those in the urban core, are already starting to feel the impact of business’ and public health officials’ warnings that the public should stay home and avoid crowds. That was before Thursday’s decision to halt the NHL and NBA seasons, meaning the restaurants around TD Garden won’t be seeing pre-game diners.

The hope is that keeping tax money in restaurant tills will keep businesses afloat.

More than 350,000 people are employed by Massachusetts restaurants. Depending on how long the COVID-19 outbreak lasts, layoffs are likely. “There are going to be victims,” restaurant association President and CEO Bob Luz told the Business Journal Friday. “This is an industry that, the good businesses survive at a 6% net bottom line. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for error.”

Food establishments pay the state and individual municipalities 7% in taxes on every food bill, handing over $1.5 billion in any given year, according to Luz.

Many of these businesses are also sitting on significant amounts of liquor and beer ordered for now-cancelled or postposed events like St. Patrick’s Day and the Boston Marathon. The Massachusetts Restaurant Association is also working with the Massachusetts Package Stores Association, the wholesalers guild and the state treasurer’s office for a 30-day delay on liquor taxes. Business has already slowed by 10% across the dozens of 110 Grill and Evviva Trattoria run by Westford-based 110 Grill Management, according to Chief Operating Officer Ryan Dion. The company has halted all hiring and has been granting leaves of absence to employees who need to self-quarantine.

The company, along with around 50 other restaurant groups, is now offering curbside pickup to customers who don’t feel comfortable in crowded spaces in a bid to bolster revenue.

“Restaurant and hospitality employees cannot work from home. Without our guests, restaurants will close,” Dion said. “We have to try to take care of our local businesses right now.”

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