The relief package may help the 37% of Georgia restaurant operators who said in a recent National Restaurant Association survey that they were unlikely to be in business six months from now without additional federal assistance, while 27% said they were considering temporarily closing their restaurants until the pandemic subsided.
“We have spent the last month going to cities, talking to mayors, giving communications about what they can do to keep restaurants alive,” Georgia Restaurant Association CEO Karen Bremer said Friday in a phone interview. “The big issues: Everyone has to renew liquor licenses, permits, down payment for liability, workers comp and health insurance right now. Lots of restaurants are having to make the decision: Am I going to have to pay everything now?”
Some cities have taken steps to lessen the financial burden on restaurant operators. Brookhaven is awarding $5,000 grants to assist restaurants with liquor license fees, while Athens has reduced liquor license fees by 50% and codified the reduction through 2022. Savannah recently created a plan to allow businesses to pay for their alcohol licenses in three installments during the first quarter of 2021.
The Georgia Restaurant Association also has requested that the state Department of Public Health consider hospitality and tourism employees as part of the critical workforce during Phase 1-B of the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. During the pandemic, employees in this sector have been designated essential workers. Pre-COVID-19, the industry employed about half a million people in Georgia, nearly 11% of the state’s workforce.
The announcement of the pandemic relief bill comes the same day that the National Restaurant Association, James Beard Foundation and Food & Society at the Aspen Institute released a diner code of conduct, aimed at helping maintain a safe environment for patrons and employees at restaurants that are still operating. The four-part code asks diners to wear masks when not eating, respect management’s right to refuse service to those who will not wear a mask, adhere to physical distancing from staff and other guests, and cancel or reschedule if they have been exposed to COVID-19 or have felt symptoms in the previous three days.