Few sectors of the economy were harder hit by the COVID-19 crisis than America’s restaurants. A heavily-regulated industry, restaurants of all flavors were almost completely cut off from their customers. Overnight, an industry of more than one million locations and 15.6 million employees closed entirely or shifted to takeout, delivery and drive-thru operation. Around 8 million employees were laid off and 40 percent of all restaurants closed their doors completely. The suffering was widespread.
The National Restaurant Association, a 100-year-old organization that represents roughly 500,000 restaurant businesses, stepped up. As the main organization that advocates for the service industry, it became their duty to look after the wellbeing of restaurant owners, workers and their families by influencing Congress and raising awareness of the struggles their community was facing. This included advocating for federal resources for paid leave, tax breaks and safe conditions for continuing operations, as well as guidelines for a recovery path.
Restaurants are not just places where we eat. They build communities where we meet our friends and family, where we celebrate accomplishments and where we relax and seek comfort. This played an essential role as restaurants activated and mobilized not just restaurant owners and workers, but also their families, extended networks and communities via email, text and social media. The consumers that dearly love the establishments also wanted to protect the wellbeing of their workers.
The organization needed to act fast and the first target was to convince lawmakers to adjust the coronavirus relief bill to include restaurant provisions and immediately pass additional measures aimed at providing critical relief. This followed by additional campaigns requesting assistance as Congress took up the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the $2 trillion bill commonly known as CARES.
Knowing that restaurants are places we cherish, the organization launched RestaurantsAct.com, powered by Phone2Action, and asked industry workers to share their personal stories and struggles. These were amplified on social media along with links allowing individuals to contact their legislators quickly, in a state-of-the-art, easy to use interface. The effort generated incredible activity.
More than 182,000 owners, chefs, line cooks, wait staff and others took action and contacted their lawmakers across a variety of campaigns, generating more than 490,000 messages to Congress and other elected officials. Restaurant workers were included in the CARES Act, which initially did not protect them. The campaigns were shared more than 45,000 times on Facebook and generated more than 5,500 retweets. Additionally, people took to supporting restaurants on social media, amplifying the need to order delivery or takeout and promote the purchases of gift cards, all actions that injected much-needed cash to establishments that were near to closing.
The National Restaurant Association not only protected their industry, but elevated its status. When President Trump created his COVID-19 tax force, Marvin Irby, the association’s interim president and CEO, was included. So were 23 members of the food and beverage industries. That’s more than were included for banking, construction, defense, energy, hospitality, telecommunications or transportation.