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With plans to lift all COVID-10 capacity restrictions Friday, Illinois restaurants are entering another chapter.
Many didn’t survive the pandemic, while others stayed afloat with government funding while offering curbside pickup. The Illinois Restaurant Association estimated 20% of the restaurants closed permanently.
The National Restaurant Association has sent a blueprint for lawmakers to highlight ideas to accelerate the industry’s recovery. The letter was sent to the National Governors Association, the United States Conference of Mayors, and the National Council of State Legislators.
Among the proposals include expanding access to child care for hospitality workers because they are unable to work from home, permanently expanding outdoor dining, and protecting businesses from unforeseen tax burdens due to federal relief.
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“We want to make sure state and local lawmakers are considering the tax consequences of that and making sure restaurants don’t get surprise bills,” said Mike Whatley, vice president for State Affairs and Grassroots Advocacy for the association.
Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, agreed. He said any type of tax increase would be a knockout blow.
“Now is the worst possible time to be considering any potential tax increases that will increase the financial burden placed on small businesses that are struggling to hang on,” Toia said.
Whatley said getting people vaccinated is key to the hospitality industry back on its feet, and likes Illinois’ effort to offer a free cocktail to vaccinated patrons.
“The only way that restaurants can return to normal, whatever that may look like, is to have every single person feel comfortable dining in a restaurant,” Whatley said. “Restaurants are about hospitality, it is about packed environments where folks can enjoy life’s happy moments together and without herd immunity and increased vaccinations, that’s not possible.”
One of the biggest obstacles facing eateries right now is a shortage of workers. The lack of qualified potential employees is being reported all over the country. About half of U.S. governors have ended the enhanced federal unemployment benefits to get people back into the workforce.
Whatley said a summer employee recruitment program and retention bonuses would help alleviate the shortage of workers.
“State and local lawmakers have the power to make a real difference in their local industry’s recovery,” said Whatley in a statement. “They could help address some of our long-term obligations and the recruitment challenge, which we expect will continue into our busiest months later this summer.”