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Uncertain Futures for U.S. Restaurants Raise Larger Concerns About City Vitality

In many American cities, restaurants are beacons of economic revitalization and social vibrancy. Calculations are still being made to determine the toll taken on the nation's eateries, and in turn, the urban economies they serve.
May 20, 2020, 6am PDT | Lee Flannery
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Lee Cartledge

Many restaurants relying on exclusively delivery and pickup orders in compliance with social distancing protocols face an uncertain future. The strain of reduced hours and staffing put pressure on restaurant owners to rectify the loss of income and service volume. 

"The danger facing restaurants, which thrive on crowded rooms and get by on razor-thin margins, poses a special threat to small cities and large towns where a robust food culture plays an outsize role in the economy," write Jennifer Steinhauer and Pete Wells, reflecting on the role of food culture in the revival and survival of cities large and small, and pointing out the lack of federal acknowledgment of their value. 

With upwards of 400,000 U.S. food and beverage service jobs lost in March, many small restaurants struggle to take advantage of the $310 billion in federal funding which requires 75% of the funding to be used for payroll in order to receive loan forgiveness. These programs are simply "not useful for eateries that may need to remain shuttered or half full for months after other kinds of businesses are fully operational," say Steinhauer and Wells, highlighting the uniquely difficult predicament faced by the nation's restaurants. 

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Published on Thursday, May 7, 2020 in The New York Times
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