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Pandemic-related closures displaced nearly 2 million restaurant workers. Restaurants are now re-opening, but many servers, bussers, and chefs found work elsewhere. Some started new food businesses that are thriving. Others found jobs with better pay and working conditions. From fine dining to fast food, America's restaurants are struggling to meet consumer demand.
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Finally, some good news for American restaurants and bars: The federal $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package includes $28.6 billion in grants to help stop the bleeding. The fund offers a maximum of $10 million per restaurant group or $5 million for individual venues. Since most of last year's funds were scooped up by chain restaurants, to be eligible in this go round businesses cannot be publicly traded or have more than 20 locations. Over $5 billion of the grants are set aside for smaller venues with annual gross receipts below $500,000, and for the first 21 days, establishments owned by women, veterans, and economically or socially disadvantaged groups will be prioritized. The Small Business Administration is currently building digital infrastructure to administer the grants and expects to begin accepting applications by the end of April. Whew, just in time.
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The latest $1.9 trillion COVID relief aid package includes $25 billion to help America's ailing restaurants stay afloat. About $5 billion of that amount is earmarked specifically for smaller restaurants with less than $500,000 in 2019 revenues. Overall, the Restaurant Relief Fund would provide grants of up to $5 million per restaurant with few spending restrictions. For multi-unit operations, the grant goes up to $10 million total with up to 20 locations eligible to receive aid. The relief bill is expected to pass through the House of Representatives this week and then head to the Senate.
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The prestigious Michelin Guide has released its annual star ratings in France, in part to lift morale throughout the country's battered restaurant industry. This year, 45 restaurants lost their Michelin stars and 57 earned new ones. Among the winners, ONA (which stands for Origine Non Animale or Non-Animal Origin), a vegan restaurant in the southwestern village of Arès, near Bordeaux. With its shiny new Michelin star, ONA is the first animal-free establishment to appear in the Michelin Guide to France since the guide was first published way back in 1900.
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In a new pivot for the struggling restaurant industry, hotel rooms have become the latest fine-dining hot spots. As lockdowns continue and the weather cools too much for outdoor dining, some restaurateurs see no other way to keep their businesses alive through the winter. It's a win-win for the hospitality industry, as hotel occupancy rates have also hit historic lows this year. From New York and Boston to Chicago and Minneapolis, hotel beds and nightstands are being pushed aside for beautifully set dining tables that provide guests with elegant meals similar to what they might experience in a restaurant, albeit with a limited number of guests.