OpenTable Calls on Congress to Pass the RESTAURANTS Act

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
United States House of Representatives
H-232, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510

The Honorable Kamala Harris
United States Senator
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510

Dear California Representatives:

While passing the CARES Act in March 2020 provided small businesses with options as they boarded up their windows and braced for economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, it was only a first step toward survival for the restaurant community.

While we have seen through your actions that you care deeply and are long-time advocates for restaurants, the CARES Act was a measure to buy us time as we collectively addressed a more lasting solution. The RESTAURANTS Act is a bipartisan follow-up to the CARES Act in the ongoing fight to save the restaurant industry, an $863 billion behemoth that employed over 15.5 million Americans before the start of the COVID-19 crisis, second only to the federal government as the largest employer in the U.S.

Running a restaurant is already difficult on a good day. These businesses are the bedrock of our culture and the heart of our gatherings—where life’s most memorable moments happen, around the table, over food and drink. They are bastions of community and often owned and operated by immigrants who bring the diversity to our table that makes this country great.

The industry is facing its hardest moment in history, and in particular, our small and independent restaurants that make up the mosaic of our dining landscape need a lifeline to get through this period.

As the CEO of OpenTable, a company committed to helping people experience the world through dining, and as a partner to the restaurant community, I wanted to underscore the harsh realities our industry is facing:

  • OpenTable predicts 25 percent of restaurants will close as a result of the pandemic, putting millions more jobs at risk.

  • Each restaurant that closes has detrimental implications for a vast economic ecosystem, especially on the local level. Our data indicates that seated diners in the U.S. are still down 54 percent YOY.

  • According to a survey we conducted in July, 51 percent of diners consider outdoor dining low to somewhat low risk as compared with only 19 percent who said the same about indoor dining. Therefore, while we are currently seeing a lift in dining activity, the seasonal nature of dining outside is clearly contributing to the trend, and we predict a reversal in behavior come fall and winter, when outdoor dining is a far less comfortable option in many states.

  • In July, 56 percent of diners said it was extremely important for restaurant staff to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), representing a 51 percent increase from April. The need for PPE increases as these small businesses strive to help diners feel safe in their environments—and so do the costs.

The leisure and hospitality industries (California’s largest revenue generator at $28.3 billion) are up against similar challenges:

  • As of July 2020, the leisure and hospitality industry had the highest unemployment rate in the United States, at 25 percent.

  • A study by the U.S. Travel Association reports that the hospitality and leisure industries have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This sector—which includes restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, and cafés—endured over one-third of all job losses in the United States, even though it comprises just 11 percent of the country’s workforce.

  • The report also shows how the U.S.’s entire hospitality industry lost half of all jobs in March and April. In early July, Los Angeles city controller Ron Galperin released his own jobs study illustrating how LA’s food service industry netted the most losses, shedding 75,000 jobs.

Restaurants are built on relationships, so the impact on the industry will have a ripple effect—on the farmers who sell them ingredients, on the launderers who handle their linens, on the countless small businesses who help power what they do. With margins laser thin as it is, they simply will not survive—not to mention continue to thrive—without our help.

And so, when the country safely reopens and people feel comfortable gathering again, we want to ensure there are restaurants to get back to. At OpenTable, we know that these are businesses whose reason for being is to both literally and figuratively nurture our communities through hospitality that is fundamental to what they do.

As an Asian American child growing up in the city of San Francisco, my family gathered around the table of Five Happiness on Geary Boulevard to taste the flavors we knew from home, affirm our new place in the world, and look to the future. A mom & pop shop like so many at risk, the restaurant became our refuge, where we could focus on the opportunity that lay ahead.

Let us act now to show them the support they deserve, just as they have always done for us. We believe that restaurants are the way back, together.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Debby Soo,