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Dining news Pierce County Restaurant Rally Tacoma dining Tacoma restaurant news

Restaurants are hurting and Pierce County just approved more funding to help

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With an unexpected batch of new regulations kicking in for restaurants tomorrow that will last through Dec. 14, full-service Pierce County restaurants will be struggling mightily the next four weeks.

Pierce County Council today passed emergency legislation that will increase the relief it already is providing restaurants through its Restaurant Rally program. County Councilmember Dave Morell proposed the ordinance, which passed at today’s meeting unanimously. The legislation goes next to Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier for signing.

The emergency measure will double the reimbursement to restaurants that participate in Restaurant Rally. That reimbursement would grow from 50 percent to 100 percent of gross food sales. The dining program, funded with $7.5 million of the county’s CARES Act funding, started Nov. 8 and gives diners 30 percent off dine-in and take-out meals from participating restaurants (excluding alcohol and third-party delivery). The promotion ends Thursday, but due to the new restaurant restrictions, the final two days of the program will be for take-out meals only. The additional funding for reimbursing restaurants will come from the same pool of CARES Act money.

Restaurant owners were relieved at the news, “This will definitely help us,” said Ellie Carr, who co-owns Carr’s in Lakewood with husband Chris.

The timing of the dining restrictions that will shutter dining rooms and allow restaurants to only serve takeout could not have been worse for restaurants entering the second week of Restaurant Rally. Restaurants reported high volumes of diners last week – for both dine-in and take-out. Restaurants are now saddled with extra product they purchased in anticipation of another busy Restaurant Rally. Many restaurants also stocked up for a Thanksgiving that likely will be much less busy than anticipated due to take-out only being offered.

“We have a lot of groceries bought over the past few weeks since we were to do a high volume of business for Thanksgiving and that weekend after. This would be a huge help,” said Steve Orchekowsky, owner of Puyallup’s Black Bear Diner, of the emergency ordinance. Added Carr, “We stocked up for slightly higher than normal open operations – which is definitely more product than will get used up after the closure. I’m hoping that our to-go business will remain steady enough to get through it, but we won’t know till we cross that bridge.”

Morell noted his concern for restaurants holding on to extra product at the council’s study session earlier today. “I’ve even seen ads lately with restaurants running food out at $5 a meal because they have so much inventory,” said Morell, who added, “I just felt it was necessary to get the message out that we’re here to help them.”

Restaurant owners said they were thankful for any little bit of help right now. (To find out where to dine out to support participating Restaurant Rally restaurants the next few days, click here).

“It will absolutely help,” said Clayton Krueger, the marketing director for family-owned pizzeria chain Farrelli’s. “Anything to get through these new mandates will help. Estimates are that a third of Washington restaurants won’t make it through the next four weeks and 100,000 local employees will be laid off just before the holidays.”

Restaurant owners participating in Restaurant Rally said they would support any future county initiatives that could also bring more help to industry workers, not just restaurant owners. “They should use extra funds to help the industry employees for the next four weeks that will suffer a reduction in hours. Terrible that this is happening right before the holidays, our industry employees could really use the assistance,” said Tim Bartz, owner of Tacoma’s TheKoi and three Happy Teriyaki restaurants.

Laura Perry, who owns Perry’s Cocktail Bar in downtown Puyallup, shared the same hope as Bartz that relief will come for servers and other industry professionals who are facing another round of layoffs with dining room closures happening for at least four weeks, “The 100 percent will help tremendously, but if there’s a way some of these funds can be funneled to help out laid off service workers, I’d rather it go to them. I’m worried for my employees. It’s a horrible time to be laid off.”

MORE RELIEF: CAPS ON DELIVERY SERVICES AND HELP FOR MICROBUSINESSES

Councilmember Marty Campbell proposed today that micro businesses get an extra boost of support to bring the minimum contributions to those restaurants up to $10,000 from the $5,000 promised to all Restaurant Rally participants, no matter how small the restaurant and its gross sales are. However, the second week’s receipts for Restaurant Rally have not yet been submitted. Staff members said funding that proposal could potentially push the program slightly over budget. Councilmembers Morell and Doug Richardson both said they’d support Campbell’s idea and would be in favor of revisiting it next week after final receipts are submitted.

Campbell also brought forth a proposal today that will be considered by the council at its meeting at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 19. It’s an idea that would bring even more relief to struggling restaurants right now. His proposal would put a cap on commissions paid to third-party delivery apps, such as Uber Eats and Door Dash, to 15 percent, which is a measure other local municipalities also are considering or have passed, including the City of Tacoma, which approved the emergency ordinance earlier this week.

Restaurant owners report that capping third-party delivery would be good news for them because they often pay double or more in fees to delivery apps than the proposed 15 percent cap. Some restaurant owners report paying up to 30 percent in fees and they’re not able to adjust their menu prices to accommodate those huge fees and they’re already suffering slim margins.

“That would be amazing,” said Ellie Carr of Carr’s in Lakewood. “Most food items are only marked up 30-40 percent so we are literally making like $1-2 for items sold through those apps versus $5-9 per item when ordered directly.”

FOOD BANKS ALSO GET HELP FROM THE COUNTY COUNCIL TODAY

Pierce County Councilmembers also unanimously approved up to $100,000 in funding for 12 food banks today for pandemic-related expenses. Several food bank directors testified at the council meeting this afternoon, telling members that their needs have grown, in some cases, to crisis level and at volumes they’ve never before seen. Beyond the 12 food banks receiving the help today, other eligible food banks can apply for up to $20,000 in funding.

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