MIAMI (CBSMiami) – On a typical Friday night, Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale would be filled with people visiting restaurants and bars. But with the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown extending into its 5th week, those businesses that are open are only doing takeout or delivery.
Aaron Abramoff, Chief Financial Officer for The Restaurant People, which owns and operates 9 restaurants in Fort Lauderdale including Yolo and the Boatyard, said 4 of their 9 locations are doing takeout and the revenue is meager.READ MORE: Attorney: Parkland School Gunman Nikolas Cruz To Plead Guilty To Massacre
“We are operating at 5% of our normal revenue,” he said.
Abramoff said they were forced to lay off or furlough 550 employees.
“It was the hardest day of my career to tell people we just don’t have work for them,” he said.
Abramoff said he knows when they do return things will look different. He anticipates there will be social distancing in restaurants and possible diminished capacity at the start. But he’s hopeful that with planning and preparation they’ll entice customers with new items.
“We’ve spent this time developing new menu items and be excited to taste new food and try new drinks,” Abramoff said.
But many in the restaurant industry are viewing the glass as much more than half empty.
A national survey of 1,400 independent restaurants by the James Beard Foundation and the Independent Restaurant Coalition shows that 91% of hourly workers have been laid off and 70% of salaried workers have been laid off.
The survey discovered that only 1 in 5 restaurant owners in cities that are shutdown are certain that they will be able to sustain their businesses. Another factor for independent restaurants is mounting debt. The survey found that 51% of restaurants have taken on at least $50k in debt as a result of COVID-19.
The Independent Restaurant Coalition and the James Beard Foundation are urging Congress to make changes to the Paycheck Protection Program to better serve these small restaurants. They say the loans should have a different beginning and payback period to make it easier for them to catch up.
“The data is clear: The Paycheck Protection Program isn’t working as designed for restaurants and Congress needs to fix it,” said Clare Reichenbach, CEO of the James Beard Foundation, in a statement.READ MORE: Desperate & Asking For Help, Family Left Homeless By Fire In Lauderhill
Tap 42 is a popular, well-known restaurant in Fort Lauderdale and they have several other locations across South Florida. They’re struggling.
“We’re literally on life support like every other restaurant right now,” said Andrew Balick, Executive Chef and Partner.
Balick said they were forced to let go of more than 400 hourly employees but were able to bring a few back along with their managers.
“Thankfully we’ve been doing decent with take out, so thank you, South Florida,” he said. “We’ve been able to bring back some hourly employees.”
Balick says they’re also focused on planning for a new normal with likely dining restrictions in place once the shutdown is lifted.
“Restaurants will probably be one of the last to get back to normal in terms of people in close contact, mass gatherings so for us, we want to be calculated in our approach going forward,” he said.
Aaron Abramoff believes the key to the restaurant come back — when it happens — will be the local community since cruise ship and convention traffic, as well as tourist visits, will likely be lagging for some time.
“It’s gonna be the locals,” he said, “It’s gonna be the people that want to go to the restaurants and support the restaurants and get out of their house and enjoy South Florida.”
Abramoff and a number of other restaurant groups in South Florida created an effort called Hands for Hospitality to help employees laid off or furloughed.
They are raising money to go directly to more than 1,700 affected restaurant employees. So far, they’ve raised more than $51,000 for the effort, which ends Sunday.MORE NEWS: Florida Task Force Makes Recommendations On Condo Safety
A gofundme page has been created. Click here if you would like to help.