More than 8M at U.S. restaurants out of work amid crisis, survey shows


More than three-quarters of restaurant workers in the United States — about 8 million — have been put out of work by the coronavirus crisis, a new survey showed Monday.

According to the National Restaurant Association, food and beverage sales were down an average of 78 percent year-to-year over the first 10 days of April. The industry group said that amounts to about $50 billion in lost sales this month.

The association polled 6,500 restaurant operators for the survey.

It found that nearly 90 percent of U.S. restaurant operators have laid off or furloughed workers since the beginning of March. Those operators cut, on average, 83 percent of their entire staff. More than 40 percent said they laid off 100 percent of the staff. There are about 12 million employees in the U.S. food service industry.

The association found that fast-food restaurants with drive-through service were the only operators that reported less severe sales declines (57 percent) because most were already well-equipped to handle “off-premises traffic.”

One national chain, Shake Shack, announced Monday it has returned $10 million in federal funds it received from the Small Business Administration’s $350 billion rescue Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The fund, part of the CARES Act passed last month, offered two-year loans of up to $10 million to businesses with fewer than 500 workers.

Filings with the Securities Exchange Commission showed that Shake Shack was one of more than 70 larger businesses, those with more than 500 employees, that received money from the fund — which ran out of money last week.

“We’ve decided to immediately return the entire $10 million PPP loan we received last week to the SBA so that those restaurants who need it most can get it now,” Shake Shack owners Danny Meyer and Randy Garutti wrote in a letter.

The chain laid off more than 1,000 of its 7,600 employees in recent weeks, according to Restaurant Business Online.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which has 150 U.S. locations and more than 5,000 employees, received $20 million from the fund, The Washington Post reported. Pot Belly, a sandwich shop chain with 400 locations, received another $10 million and Taco Cabana, which has more than 160 stores, received $10 million, according to SEC filings.

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