Omicron deals major blow to 'struggling' restaurant industry: National Restaurant Association executive

National Restaurant Association executive argues more COVID relief needed

Executive Vice President of Public Affairs at the National Restaurant Association Sean Kennedy argued on Thursday that the industry is currently "struggling" to keep doors open, noting that the vast majority of owners say conditions are worse now compared to a few months ago. 

Speaking on "Cavuto: Coast to Coast," he stressed that more financial relief is needed to help restaurant owners continue to stay afloat as the omicron variant has been dealing a major blow to the restaurant industry.  

Kennedy pointed to a recent national survey completed by the National Restaurant Association, which he said noted that 76% of restaurant operators reported "that their conditions are worse now than they were just three months ago." 

"Programs like the Restaurant Revitalization Fund have saved, by our estimates, 900,000 jobs," he went on to say. 

"Congress continues to sit on the sidelines [and] has not taken care of funding that program, which could save, by our estimates, an additional 1.6 million jobs."

In a survey released by the National Restaurant Association on Monday, data highlighted the impact omicron has had so far as well as the positive impact the Restaurant Revitalization Fund had on the industry. 


The release showcasing the survey results noted that the first round of funding saved more than 900,000 jobs and helped 96% of recipients of a grant stay in business.

The survey also found that nearly half of restaurant operators that did not receive grants feel it’s unlikely that they will stay in business beyond the pandemic without any financial assistance. It also found that 94% of restaurant owners that applied for a grant, but did not receive funding, said a future grant would help them to retain or hire back employees.  

New York restaurants are some of those that have been most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and its associated lockdowns. 

In a news release, the New York State Restaurant Association pointed to estimates from the National Restaurant Association that one out of every six restaurants in the country closed due to the pandemic and said that, based on estimates, that means more than 8000 restaurants in New York state, 4,500 of which are in New York City, have shut their doors for good. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has started exploring another round of coronavirus relief funding for small businesses as the surge of the highly contagious omicron variant threatens to unleash more economic havoc.  

Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., have spearheaded an effort to provide small businesses with additional federal aid, a person familiar with the matter told FOX Business earlier this month. The news was first reported by The Washington Post. 


The source said the duo is crafting a package based on a bill the pair introduced in August that would replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a program created by Democrats in March 2021 that gave food and beverage providers grants equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss, with a maximum of $10 million per business and $5 million per location.

The proposed legislation, which failed to pass, would have allocated an additional $48 billion to the fund. The Post reported that Wicker and Cardin put together a $68 billion proposal in mid-December that includes a mix of new spending and reallocation of unused cash authorized under previous packages.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund launched May 3 and paid out approximately $29 billion to eligible applicants, which included restaurants, bars, food trucks and carts, brewpubs, tasting rooms and other food service establishments. Businesses could use the grants to cover expenses, rent and supply costs. The fund ran out of money in less than two months after providing grants to more than 100,000 businesses. 

"Restaurants are a low-profit industry on a good day, and we are still loaded with debt from government-mandated shutdowns - so it has been really tough for us to come back online," Kennedy said on Thursday. "We don’t have the customer traffic that we need."

He went on to point out that "90,000 restaurants have closed their doors temporarily or long term" and stressed the importance of moving the legislation to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund forward in order to prevent the industry, which he noted is the nation’s second-largest private sector employer, from shrinking further. 

"We need to get that legislation pushed through Congress," he stressed. 

Any spending plan faces an uphill battle in the narrowly divided Senate, where Republicans previously sank efforts to provide small businesses with additional aid over concerns about the nation's deficit. But the talks underscore growing unease on Capitol Hill over the stunning recent rise in cases driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant. 

Asked earlier this month about the possibility of a relief package that targets restaurants and other small businesses, White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed to the $1.9 trillion package that Democrats passed nearly a year ago. 


"We did a major relief package that included helping restaurants just last year," she said. "We are in constant discussions with Congress and leadership about the needs of the American people, whether they are small businesses or restaurants or people sitting in their homes as we continue to fight the pandemic, but don't have any new prediction of new pending requests or specific requests and wouldn't predict that at this moment in time."

Only about one-third of restaurants that applied for relief through the fund received a grant, and the Independent Restaurant Coalition, a trade group formed during the pandemic, estimates that nearly 80% of restaurants could close this winter without additional aid.


FOX Business’ Megan Henney contributed to this report.