In July, The Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) awarded over $137 million to 168 Hell’s Kitchen eateries, averaging out at $818,363 per business. The funds were a lifeline for those businesses fortunate enough to get an award — but two-thirds of the neighborhood’s struggling bar and restaurant owners were left with rejection and $0. Now owners are lobbying for federal fund replenishment, while welcoming back hungry tourists and finding innovative help from Amex and Resy.
In a new bid to drive diners back to city restaurants, American Express and Resy have teamed up to offer the “Every Resy Counts” Program, in which both companies will donate to restaurant relief funds and rebate select patrons for every millionth reservation booked through them.
The program, the second in a series of relief initiatives from Resy and Amex, arrives as restaurants continue to claw their way back to recovery after crucial holiday season omicron-related losses. While NYC reservations were up 30% from January, across the country dining numbers were down overall from December, according to Resy data.
Charlie Marshall at The Marshal, who does Resy, said: “I think it is getting to the point where we can’t continue to lean on our loyal local customers to continue to support us — it just isn’t fair. They’ve been here the whole time, helping out after each desperate email or Instagram post. Tourists are finally coming back and that used to be (and will be) the bread and butter of NYC restaurants. Our neighbors have courageously kept us afloat since the beginning of 2020 and I can’t really imagine asking more of them, again. We wouldn’t be here without what they’ve given us over the past 2 years — I couldn’t be more grateful. But I hope when they find lost and hungry tourists, they’ll confidently send them in the direction of their favorite locally owned restaurant.”
Federal relief through the RRF has been slow to arrive, with nearly two-thirds of eligible US businesses left without funding. A petitioning letter to President Biden from the Independent Restaurant Coalition emphasized the dire circumstances, saying, “Nearly 200,000 small businesses have been overlooked and now four out of five of these restaurants and bars are in danger of closing permanently, threatening all of the livelihoods we support. Business owners reported taking out new personal loans and going further into debt to pay their employees and keep their doors open, but this is unsustainable.”
Hell’s Kitchen restaurants have felt a particular sting, as lost foot traffic from office workers, theater patrons, and tourists has sharply impacted revenues and led to a spate of pandemic closures. Despite the recent upturn in business as omicron recedes, the process of securing relief funding from a long two-year deficit has been thorny for neighborhood restaurants. Hell’s Kitchen joints received an average of $818, 363 in funding — less than half of the average award for other Midtown Restaurants at $1,691,143. Many local favorites (including Scruffy Duffy’s, Sullivan Street Bakery, and Kashkaval Garden) were shut out, and the RRF ran out of money in May 2021. The neighborhood would need around $250m extra of federal money to fully fund the scheme.
Elizabeth Rutledge, Chief Marketing Officer at American Express said: “As we approach the two-year mark of the pandemic, restaurateurs continue to need community support to help make up for lost revenues. By rallying together, we hope to inspire consumers to grab a table at independent restaurants throughout March, and beyond, to help them continue to get back on their feet.”
After one million completed reservations, Resy and Amex will donate $500,000 to Southern Smoke, an organization providing emergency funding to restaurant and bar workers, baristas, sommeliers, farmers, ranchers, winemakers, distillers, brewers, and anyone in the food and beverage industry.
After 2, 3, and 4 million completed reservations, the companies will rebate select tables of diners — but don’t order the Dom Pérignon quite yet, because rebates are limited to $99 a person and $594 a table per Amex transaction.
Bipartisan legislators have been pushing the Biden administration for a replenishment of up to $60 billion to the restaurant relief fund, though experts estimate if a bill is passed that it won’t exceed $48 billion. Additionally, any funds secured would be distributed to previous applicants only.
Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition said in a statement: “The Biden Administration needs to finish what it started and let the Restaurant Revitalization Fund continue to save jobs across the country. Republicans and Democrats in Congress and mayors and governors across the country all agree that urgently processing the remaining 177,000 applications from restaurants which asked for help last Spring is necessary for our neighborhoods and the economy.”
Even if the RRF is replenished, the local hospitality economy faces an uphill battle. According to New York State Department of Labor data, as of November the restaurant sector still employed 30% fewer workers than pre-pandemic. For now, two private companies have taken up the mantle to help fund independent restaurants where federal support has dried up.
If you’d like to support local restaurants and are looking to make every reservation count this March, make a reservation at one of the many Hell’s Kitchen spots on Resy.