Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

The pandemic continues to take a devastating toll on the food and beverage industry, a recent study shows. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ December jobs report, over 372,000 restaurant and bar employees nationwide lost their jobs over the holiday season. 

At least one Charleston restaurant owner said the losses can be traced to inaction from Congress as the pandemic’s economic impacts persist.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) has been advocating for local restaurants affected by COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, and it continues to emphasize the need for more aid from the federal government. 

“New changes to the Paycheck Protection Program will be too little, too late for hundreds of thousands of people left without a paycheck this holiday season,” the IRC said in a statement. “Restaurants, bakeries, bars, and coffee shops employ more non-white managers and young people than any other industry. Immigrants, a million single mothers, and the formerly incarcerated rely on restaurants and bars for their livelihood. We cannot leave these communities jobless.” 

The organization reports that over 110,000 restaurants and bars have permanently closed since March, contributing to the increasing unemployment numbers. 

The IRC is calling on Congress to revisit the RESTAURANTS Act, a bipartisan bill that would establish a $120 billion fund for restaurants reeling from the pandemic. The bill was not included in the federal government’s December coronavirus relief package. 

“A direct relief plan like the RESTAURANTS Act is vital to ensure there are places to work when restaurants can fully reopen and rehire their teams,” the IRC said. 

Local restaurateur Michael Shemtov, whose restaurant portfolio includes Workshop, Butcher & Bee and The Daily, serves on the IRC’s leadership team. According to Shemtov, the heightened holiday job loss numbers are a “result of Congress taking so long to pass relief for restaurants, which is still weeks away from arriving.” 

“Had restaurant owners known sooner that aid was coming, some of these jobs would have been saved,” Shemtov said. 

More than 2 million F&B workers have been laid off since the onset of the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.