The heart of the restaurant business is social interaction, and that has become a liability in the era of COVID-19, accoring to Sean Kennedy of the National Restaurant Association. Restaurants were among the first to close and have been the hardest hit.
"Eight million jobs lost in the restaurant sector, $80 billion in lost revenue for March in April, and we're on a path right now even as we reopen slowly to lose over $240 billion in revenue," Kennedy said on Farm Journal Live. "As the nation's second largest private sector employer, that needs to be pretty alarming to policymakers in Washington."
Obviously, the sharp downturn in restaurant business is having an impact on agriculture as, prior to the pandemic, more than 50% of meals were served by restaurants over home preparation. That's why Kennedy and the Restaurant Association are calling on agricultural interests to push for aid package changes that will help restaurants survive the shutdown.
Specifically, the association is calling for changes to restrictions to the Payroll Protection Program which offers forgiveable loans for small businesses.
"You have to spend it in eight weeks, eight weeks after you get the loan, and for a lot of restaurants, they are closed right now, or they are barely open," Kennedy said. "It's really tough to take out a loan to pay people who are not going to be coming into the restaurant,.What we're looking for is more flexibility once the government allows us to reopen. Once we have something approaching business as usual, we're going to want to bring on as many people as we can serve as many customers as we can. So we just want to extend the period of time that we can spend those dollars spend that loan in a way that makes more sense for the business cycle of of your average restaurant."
Meanwhile, Kennedy said the industry is working to expanding its limited revenue base while meeting the changing needs of customers.
"One of those has been to start selling groceries," Kennedy explained. "So you can buy that loaf of bread to go with your Italian meal, but you could also get flour and eggs and milk so you could make your own loaf of bread the next day, if you'd like. We've found it's been incredibly popular with customers. It's something that I could really see it continuing to be another outlet for food supply for customers moving forward once we're able to reopen fully."
Watch the full interview with Sean Kennedy of the National Restaurant Association on Farm Journal Live in the player above.