Texas Restaurant Association Pushing for More Federal Relief, Looks Ahead to Next Session

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In the past six months, we've seen restaurants owners forced to adapt to the pandemic. Many have had to change decades' worth of business models overnight just to get by. There's a big push to get these small businesses more help.

An estimated 15% of Texas’ restaurants have closed their doors for good since the start of the pandemic, according to the Texas Restaurant Association.

Association president and CEO Emily Williams Knight said pre-pandemic, Texas’ restaurant industry was 50,000 strong and employed about 1.3 million people in foodservice. The 15% loss is in line with the national average, Williams Knight told NBC 5 Thursday.

“I think we’re very blessed to be in Texas. I think our recovery will be better than some parts of the U.S. but to see where we sit today with the loss and the capacity caps, you can imagine our restaurant operators are really frustrated,” she said.

In June, Texas restaurants were permitted to operate at 75% but the occupancy capacity was lowered to 50% later that month due to a spike in cases. Recently, Williams Knight said a survey to their members indicated about 30% had concerns of having to close if they did not receive more funding relief.

“We’re going to make one last attempt at Congress please pass PPP, a thinned down version. Please do it for small businesses across America. I really think if that is a dead deal, I think you’re going to find a survey in a week, that number could be even higher,” she told NBC 5. “Not all restaurants are created equal. If you’ve got a drive-thru with triple lanes, life is really good for you. If you’re small entrepreneur, maybe a tiny noodle shop in downtown Dallas and office workers haven’t returned, business isn’t there. You need a lifeline, right? You didn’t cause the pandemic.”

The TRA is also looking ahead to the state legislature when the next session begins in January. A few items they are supporting include solidifying waivers for curbside alcohol-to-go and perhaps the definition of a restaurant, Williams Knight said.

In Arlington, Aziz Kobty with Prince Lebanese Grill said they have been ‘blessed’ during the pandemic. Loyal customers have kept the family-owned business running 30 years strong but like every restaurant, they have had to make adjustments over the past six months.

Digital menus, a drive-thru option, and increased sanitizing efforts are all part of their new way of operating, Kobty said.

“To us, we don’t know when dining halls are going to open and even with that, the restaurant business is all about trust. Do your customers trust you to come eat here? Do they trust that you’re doing things safely?” he explained. “We’re trying to keep moving forward and try to grow with whatever 2020 is going let us finish off with.”

Kobty says supporting locally owned businesses is important now more than ever.

“Try to get out, try to dine out,” he said. “Just be patient with your restaurants, you know? They’re not punching bags. They’re not making the rules, just play ball with them. Be nice, be kind. We’ll get through it together.”

Williams Knight said for those who may not be comfortable dining out yet, there are other options.

“Buy a gift card and put it in your pocket and don’t use it,” she said. “Give them that cash that helps them get week to week as customers start to return.”

Williams Knight said they hope to hear from Gov. Greg Abbott in the next week regarding any changes to restaurant capacity limits.

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