Schooner Restaurant & Lounge

Lexie Fields, general manager of the Schooner Restaurant & Lounge in Netarts, Ore., pours coffee for tourists visiting the coast earlier this year.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Restaurant Association has sent a letter to Congress asking for financial relief for the restaurant industry.

Foodservice industry leaders and farm groups say farmers who supplied restaurants pre-pandemic should not expect a turnaround anytime soon.

“The future remains bleak,” the restaurant association said in a statement.

Last month, the National Restaurant Association Research Group surveyed 6,000 restaurant operators and 250 supply chain businesses nationwide and found that, since March, 17% of U.S. restaurants — more than 110,000 establishments — have closed permanently or long-term.

The majority of permanently closed restaurants, the survey found, were “well-established businesses, and fixtures in their communities.” The average permanently closed restaurant had been in business 16 years, and 16% had been open at least 30 years.

Sean Kennedy, executive vice president for public affairs at the association, said in a statement most restaurants that are still open are in “economic free fall.”

Nearly 9 in 10 restaurants reported an average 36% drop in sales revenue, and more than half of supply chain companies say they expect to lay off and furlough more employees the next three months.

“We’ve seen compete shutdowns and disruptions. It seems everybody’s very much in survival mode this year,” said Laura Morgan, owner of Oregon-based food tourism company The Big Foody Tours PDX.

Vanessa Sink, spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association, told the Capital Press her organization does not yet have extensive data for the western U.S.

Glenda Hamstreet, executive coordinator for the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, similarly told the Capital Press that “real time data is difficult to garner” because of the Oregon Employment Department’s lag time in reporting.

But experts say, anecdotally, this fall has been especially hard on the West Coast restaurant industry because the second wave of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders was accompanied by cold and rainy weather, making eating outside less desirable.

Judiaann Woo, a nationally acclaimed food professional based in Portland, told the Capital Press there were opportunities for Oregon restaurants to innovate with outdoor seating this summer, but she said attracting customers is harder in the cold season.

Industry leaders say even fewer options are available in cities or states where only takeout and delivery are permitted.

Although the full impact of stay-at-home and “freeze” orders isn’t known yet, many restaurant and winery owners in California and Oregon say they are laying off more employees this fall and buying even less food from farms.

Oregon State University small farms coordinator Heidi Noordijk told the Capital Press this fall that it’s still too early to measure the full economic impact of restaurant closures on farmers for 2020, but she said she expects more data on COVID-19’s financial impacts early 2021, along with data about how many farms have successfully pivoted.

Farm groups say growers and producers should plan to keep seeking alternative markets through the winter, including CSAs, direct-to-consumer and retail markets while many restaurant accounts remain closed or limited.

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