ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Restaurant recovery should be on front burner

This editorial was originally published May 18 in the Boston Herald. 

The end of America’s coronavirus nightmare is within reach.

Venues are getting ready for live acts and capacity crowds, mask mandates are lifting and many events canceled in 2020 are back on schedule.

But while we’re looking forward to summer celebrations in our favorite restaurants, there is a caveat — many of our beloved eateries are gone.

The restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic — thanks to mandated shutdowns and capacity restrictions.

Some retooled to serve takeout and delivery only.

Many didn’t make it.

Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, estimates that about 3,400 restaurants — out of a total of about 16,000 in the state — likely have closed permanently.

Those who are still standing face a challenging road to recovery.

Which is why it’s vital that the Massachusetts Legislature pass a pair of bills extending a cap on delivery fees and authorize cocktails for takeout, beyond the end of the state of emergency.

As the State House News Service reported, sales of cocktails to-go and fee caps charged by third-party delivery such as GrubHub and DoorDash services have helped restaurants stay afloat as the pandemic squeezed their operations.

Both those provisions are tied to the length of the state of emergency that Gov. Charlie Baker declared last March. Baker announced Monday that he would end the state of emergency on June 15.

“Small businesses, restaurants, bars and others are operating on these very slim margins, and having their top line impacted in a way that renders them unprofitable right away,” said Jackson Cannon, the bar director for the now-closed Kenmore Square bars Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar and The Hawthorne. “Any of these incremental helps, especially cocktails to-go and the cap on fees, these need to be of a duration long enough to help us climb out of this and hopefully protect as many of the businesses as we can.”

Sen. Diana DiZoglio filed the bills, and has offered amendments to the Senate budget that would keep the measures in place for two years.

DiZoglio tweeted, “With @MassGovernor’s announcement today that the state of emergency is ending soon, I’m respectfully asking Sen Prez @KarenSpilka & Spkr @RonMariano, the powers that be, to expedite BOTH my cocktails to go & third party delivery cap bills ASAP to protect our restaurants.”

The focus has shifted from the gloom of enduring the pandemic’s morass, to getting the country vaccinated and boosting its infrastructure. Trillions of dollars are in play under President Biden’s program of “building back better” via fixing bridges, modernizing transport, investing in child care, moving to green energy and funding nearly every progressive proposal that comes up.

Attention should not divert from those who are still white-knuckling their way to pre-pandemic solvency. When Biden touted the newly launched Restaurant Revitalization Fund in early May, he noted, “Whether it’s our economy or our sense of community, we’re relying on restaurants to play a big role in our recovery.”

In this vein, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund needs to be a funding priority, as the duet of bills extending the cocktail authorization and delivery cap fees must be top of mind with Massachusetts lawmakers.

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