As Coronavirus Shutters Restaurants Across the Country, a Swell of Support for Workers Rises Up

COVID-19, Restaurant Industry News,

Source: Food & Wine

Across the country, restaurants and bars are beginning to close, either by government mandate, as in New York City and Chicago, or voluntarily, as social distancing becomes essential to flatten the curve. These closures are obviously brutal not only for restaurant operators and owners, but for the workforce, both front and back of the house, who will be laid off indefinitely. 

In response to the crisis, a slew of programs, grants, and resources—from grassroots efforts to government relief—have begun to take shape, along with a regularly updated Hospitality Industry Alliance | COVID-19 Facebook group. Check back again as this story will continue to be updated as more resources become available. 

One Fair Wage Offers Cash Assistance

On Monday, March 16, One Fair Wage launched an emergency fund to support tipped workers and service workers affected by the coronavirus and the economic downturn. The organization is raising funds to provide free emergency cash assistance to restaurant workers, delivery drivers, and other tipped and service workers impacted by the crisis.

The organization hopes to be able to give each worker $213, an amount that nods to $2.13, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers. The organization is also calling on Americans to demand the federal government and every state end the sub-minimum wage and adopt One Fair Wage—not just in this crisis, but permanently. 

Eligible workers will be screened in phone interviews with One Fair Wage staff, and any additional unused funds will be spent on tipped-worker organizing and advocacy. The One Fair Wage campaign is a fiscally sponsored project of the Seattle-based Alliance for a Just Society, which is administering the tax-deductible 501(c)3 donations.

Rethink Is Hiring and Giving $40K Grants

Rethink, a New York City-based non-profit working to recover nutritious excess food to provide low or no-cost meals to New York City families in need, has shifted gears to focus on the coronavirus crisis. 

Its newly launched Rethink Restaurant Response Program offers operators and restaurant workers two creative and financially supportive options for help. 

First, it is hiring back of house employeesculinary team members, facilities team members and food distribution associates—to join its Brooklyn Navy Yard-based culinary center and begin cooking and preparing meals for New Yorkers that will be distributed to its partners like God’s Love and City Harvest, and also at the Rethink Cafe in Fort Greene and at its partner restaurants across the city. 

Those partner restaurants are the second way Rethink is fighting the economic effects of the crisis. Restaurants across the city impacted by the pandemic are encouraged to apply to become a Rethink partner. Each partner restaurant will receive a $40,000 grant to be used to stay afloat—to pay staff or rent, whatever is needed. If selected for the grant, the restaurant will then become a distribution center for food made by Rethink. Rethink’s meals are available for free to any New Yorker or for a suggested donation of $3 and will be served for delivery or grab and go. “Essentially the restaurants will become distribution arms of Rethink,” explains Executive Director Meg Savage. 

NYC Hospitality Alliance: Policy and Programs

In New York City, where all restaurants and bars must stop serving dine-in guests at 8 p.m. on March 16, and only offer delivery and grab and go, the NYC Hospitality Alliance is keeping restaurants updated on resources. Executive director Andrew Rigie’s regular newsletter includes information on all many of resources and programs including information on Unemployment Insurance Benefits. New York State waived the seven-day waiting period for Unemployment Insurance benefits for people out of work due to coronavirus closures or quarantine. 

It has also established a 12-point policy and mitigation plan for restaurants and will continue to propose policy ideas to address the massive issues this will create. It is also pointing operators to the City of New York's small business agency which is offering services and information to businesses. “We are in this together,” Rigie says.

The Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation 

The Restaurant Worker’s Community Foundation has formed a COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund for restaurant workers. The organization will focus on supporting “an industry in crisis,” including both workers and small-business owners. The Fund will provide aid by direct money to those organizations that are doing on-the-ground work, use its impact investing budget to provide zero-interest loans so restaurants can maintain payroll or reopen, and provide relief for individuals facing economic hardship or a health crisis due to coronavirus. The RWCF is also creating a list of resources related to the coronavirus crisis and plans to collect data from workers and restaurant owners who have been affected.

Bartender Relief

The USBG National Charity Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the stability and wellbeing of service industry professionals through education and charity, has launched a Bartender Emergency Assistance Program available to any bartender or the spouse or child of a bartender. Applications are being taken now. 

Reducing Food Waste

Many ad-hoc groups are also forming to ensure food is diverted to families in need. 

The COVID-19 Food-Hub was organized by the nonprofit Food Education Fund. They are working to create a space to share resources on available food sources for families, collect information on possible food donations, and share resources created by partner organizations.

The Restaurant Closures Community Activation Group, formed by Samantha Unger Katz, Director of Community Engagement for the New York Distilling Company, has launched an online survey to find the best ways to help our communities. “While we know that this is an incredibly challenging and uncertain time, we hope to turn some of our fear and frustration into helping those in need by minimizing food waste and feeding the hungry,” said Unger Katz, who asks that any restaurant planning to suspend operations fill out the form so that food can be salvaged for donation.

Women in Hospitality United 

Women in Hospitality United, formed in the wake of the #MeToo movement, is beginning to compile a list of COVID-related resources and personal stories from the field reflecting the hardships across the industry. 

National Restaurant Association

The National Restaurant Association has a COVID-19 page on its website which directs restaurants to the Small Business Administration, which announced that it will work with state governments to provide targeted, low-interest disaster recovery loans to small businesses severely impacted by the outbreak. You can find out more about these loans and how to access them here.

Grassroots Efforts Around the Country

Small scale, community efforts abound from restaurants banding together to support each other, to fundraisers and resource sharing.

In Brooklyn, the owners of One Girl Cookies, Bien Cuit, and Stinky are combining forces to work out the logistics of a delivery program that is coordinated between all of their businesses. 

Ramona, makers of sparkling wine, will be donating $3,734.40, the average monthly salary of a server in New York City, to the Restaurant Worker's COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund. “As a small business with our roots in NYC, we feel it’s more important now than ever to support our local hospitality community,” Jordan Salcito, CEO and Founder of Ramona. “We encourage anyone who is able to join us in this effort to consider contributing to this fund.” 

In Chicago, Stock Mfg. and Leisure Activities have launched Chicago Hospitality United, a line of t-shirts to raise funds for Chicago’s food and beverage community. All of the net proceeds from Chicago Hospitality United’s shirts will go directly towards financial relief for hourly employees affected by the necessary precautions Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot have implemented. 

Tees are priced at $25 each with the option to “leave a tip” for those inclined to give more. Sales will be split evenly amongst participating establishments who will then disseminate directly to their hourly employees.

Participating bars and restaurants include All Together Now, Birrieria Zaragoza, Elske, Scofflaw,Young American and more.

The City of Chicago is offering an Emergency Rental Assistance program, which helps people who have lost their job, had a home fire, or an illness. They provide a one-time grant up to $900 to help cover one month's rental payment. 

In Atlanta, The Giving Kitchen is offering support specifically to restaurant workers diagnosed with COVID-19. The Giving Kitchen provides financial assistance to those in crisis due to COVID-19. Food service workers in Georgia who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and/or those who are under doctor’s orders for a mandatory quarantine should ask for help. Food service workers experiencing hardship who do not meet these criteria may still be eligible for resource referrals through the Giving Kitchen’s Stability Network

Based in Houston, Texas, the Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund is fundraising for restaurant relief donations and distributing them to restaurant workers in need. 

Next Gen Chef, a San Francisco-based culinary platform that allows Foodpreneurs to connect with advisors, is providing free access to its community so people can connect, collaborate and innovate. “We’re hoping that by providing access to our community, food entrepreneurs will access mentors, resources and community members to support each other in this time of uncertainty,” said Justine Reichman, Founder and CEO, who adds that they will also be launching online classes for everyone, forums and will continue offering virtual mentor office hours.

The D.C. Virtual Tip Jar is a running list of service workers in the city and their Venmo accounts where generous people can donate extra cash.

Chef Edward Lee is partnering with Makers Mark to create the Restaurant Workers Relief Program. As he wrote in an Instagram post about the initiative, “we will turn 610 Magnolia into a relief center for any restaurant worker who has been laid off.” 

The Gig Workers Collective has a robust list of helpful state-by-state resources.