How to Spend Your Money to Help Keep Your Favorite Restaurants Afloat

Photo to accompany story about helping restaurants. Getty Images / Boston Globe
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A new round of economic relief is on its way to the pockets of millions of Americans, with the recent passage of a $900 billion stimulus bill. But there is one industry that, while struggling more than others, has not received any special help in the new bill. 

That’s the restaurant industry, which has been hit hard recently by another wave of restrictions. Local authorities from New York City to Los Angeles have imposed bans on indoor dining to try and tamp down a surge in coronavirus cases. 

Restaurant review site Eater bemoans that while airlines and theaters are getting direct relief, the hospitality industry will not, and unemployed restaurant workers will get only half the amount of money they were entitled to under the economic help package passed last March, the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. Last year the House passed a $120 billion measure intended to help restaurants directly, but it never went any further.

About 17% of restaurants in the U.S. — more than 110,000 — have closed permanently since the pandemic began, according to data compiled by the National Restaurant Association. In a letter to Congressional leaders asking for help, the trade group says that full-service restaurants have seen sales revenue drop by an average of 36%. “This is simply unsustainable,” the letter says.

Pro Tip

While indoor dining is paused in many cities, buying gift cards is a great way to help restaurants right now.

“Restaurants are in crisis right now,” says Hillary Reinsberg, editor in chief of restaurant review site The Infatuation and of restaurant guide Zagat. “Since Thanksgiving, many states have shut down indoor dining, and others have shut down on-premise dining completely.” 

But you can do your part to help save your favorite restaurants, if you are financially able to, by spending your money in ways that will benefit them. 

Donate to Organizations and GoFundMe Pages

You don’t need to have a local favorite if you want to help restaurants. 

Since the early days of the pandemic, restaurant advocacy and relief groups have sprung up to help throughout the United States. 

“Groups like the Independent Restaurant Coalition and ROAR (Relief Opportunities For All Restaurants) have been tirelessly working to advocate for restaurant relief and financial stimulus packages like The RESTAURANTS Act,” says Reinsberg.

Some other nationwide organizations you can support include the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, the James Beard Foundation Relief Fund and the United States Bartenders’ Guild COVID-19 Relief Campaign.

Many individual restaurants throughout the country have also set up GoFundMe pages, allowing you to donate directly to their employees. We recommend checking with your favorite restaurants to see if they have one set up.

Buy Restaurant Gift Cards and Merchandise — and Even Groceries

Buying gift cards from restaurants gives them much-needed immediate cash to keep them afloat.

Some restaurants are even getting creative with how they offer these gift cards. Robert Eby, owner of EJ’s Luncheonette in New York City, says his restaurant is offering a promotion where diners can get a $120 gift card for only $100.

Many have also pivoted to selling groceries, as well. “You can consider picking up your milk or eggs with a box of vegetables from a local restaurant. Or buy a bottle of wine, which many restaurants are now selling at retail prices,” Reinsberg advises. 

By ordering groceries this way, you aren’t supporting only the restaurant but also the suppliers that sell to it, from farmers to butchers and fishmongers. 

Marti Lieberman, co-owner of MacMart, a restaurant in Philadelphia devoted to mac and cheese, encourages people to just “purchase, purchase, purchase” from restaurants. 

Many restaurants also have merchandise they sell to customers, which they did even before the pandemic hit; consider ordering a T-shirt or a mug. Whether it’s food, catering, gift cards or branded items, every little bit helps. 

Lieberman also stresses the importance of sharing on social media and writing positive Yelp reviews, although she notes that “social media doesn’t pay the bills.”

Order Directly from Restaurants

While apps such as DoorDash, GrubHub and Uber Eats may be a convenient way  to order online or from a phone, and frequently offer perks like free delivery or promotions, they take a large chunk of change from restaurants.

These services can take between 25% to 30% of a sale due to associated fees and charges, Eby said. To ensure that the restaurant gets to keep the majority of the money from your order, he recommends calling and placing a pick-up or delivery order directly.

Lieberman, though, understands the incentives that these third-party platforms offer, such as discounts and ease of ordering. And while ordering directly from restaurants is optimal, “at the end of the day, any order is helpful,” she says.

Call or Email Your Representatives

While this isn’t directly something you can do with your money, we’d be remiss not to include this simple but effective strategy — especially if you’re not in a financial position to help out otherwise right now.

No matter where you live, it only takes a few minutes to find the office of your representatives and local officials. Call their offices and/or send them an email expressing your concerns and demanding support for the restaurant industry.

“We need a stimulus package as soon as possible. Everyone has gone through whatever money was given to them at the beginning of the pandemic — another spike would be a reset back to March,” says Eby.

Lieberman remembers that during the early days of the pandemic, when many people in her area were laid off or furloughed, the extra weekly $600 in unemployment checks was helpful for her business. “We were getting orders for $80 plus 20% tip, people were really generous,” she says.

Bottom Line

Restaurants, along with so many other industries that depend on human interaction, are in a really dire situation right now; there’s no sugarcoating that. And while there are plenty of reasons to believe that restaurants will come back stronger in the long run, they need your help to get to the other side right now. If you’re in a financial position to do so, there are ways you can use the power of your wallet to help get them through this crisis.

“With a challenging few months ahead,” Reinsberg said, “now is the time to support restaurants in your community.”