Help Rhode Island Restaurants and Hotels Stay Afloat with Dinner and a Staycation

Area restaurants are investing in outdoor heaters, encouraging warm blanket-bringing and devising hot drink menus, all in an effort to continue the outdoor dining season into October.
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The sidewalk seating outside Rosalina and Gracie’s in Providence.

The cold snap came early, and while you may have been warm and cozy inside this weekend, our local restaurants are still struggling to stay open. If you’re wondering what eateries are going to do now that the fall chill is setting in, then you can guess there’s a whole lot of panicking going on right about now.

I’m sad to see the summer fading, and terrified of what that means for restaurants across the state and country as we struggle to make things work with outdoor dining and takeout and the [weather] turns colder leading us into the winter,” says restaurant owner Derek Wagner in a @nicksonbroadway Instagram post. “But first the coming of fall and the fading of summer into the most diverse part of the year for our local produce. It’s my favorite time of the year to cook.”

Area restaurants are investing in outdoor heaters, encouraging warm blanket-bringing and devising hot drink menus, all in an effort to continue the outdoor dining season into October. They are launching new takeout comfort food dishes and fun fall drinks and coming up with innovative boxed lunches, bringing back oldies-but-goodies and assembling fun family-style dinner kits. It’s all about survival, because at this point, nearly one in six restaurants, about 100,000 restaurants, are closed either permanently or long-term in the United States, according to a national survey recently released by the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

“For an industry built on service and hospitality, the last six months have challenged the core understanding of our business,” says Tom Bené, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “Our survival for this comes down to the creativity and entrepreneurship of owners, operators, and employees. Across the board, from independent owners to multi-unit franchise operators, restaurants are losing money every month, and they continue to struggle to serve their communities and support their employees.”

Nearly 3,000,000 employees are still unemployed, and the restaurant industry is set to lose more than $240 billion in sales by the end of the year. Locally, we are seeing a series of unfortunate closures, including Nicks on Westminster, Blackie’s, Bravo Bistro, The Greenville Inn, Eleven Forty Nine, Red Stripe in East Greenwich, Red Fin Crudo, Luxe Burger Bar, Loie Fuller’s, and last week, Ben Sukle announced that birch restaurant in downtown Providence will close for good on October 19. This is just the beginning as temperatures dip, and people are hesitant to dine indoors for the winter.

Locally, the RI Hospitality Association (RIHA) surveyed Rhode Island’s hospitality industry business owners and found that 21 percent of respondents have experienced more than a 70 percent loss in revenue in July 2020 versus July 2019, and another 18 percent reported a 51-60 percent decline year over year. Of the respondents, 92 percent have reopened their businesses to some degree, and 18 percent said they either haven’t been able to re-hire staff due to lost revenue or fear they’ll have to soon layoff staff. More than half of eligible respondents have applied for the RestoreRI grant program offered by the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation.

“While we’re still in the midst of challenging circumstances, it’s still disappointing to see so many businesses across Rhode Island struggling financially,” says Dale J. Venturini, President/CEO of the RI Hospitality Association. “We hope that as restrictions continue to lift, consumers will feel more comfortable visiting our restaurants and hotels, and that those struggling to find work will look to the hospitality industry for employment opportunities.”

The bottom line is that the public should show support for restaurants through safely dining out or ordering takeout before it’s too late. Bundle up, bring a blanket and order a hot drink to tough it out with our local business owners. Our restaurants are the culinary pride of Rhode Island, and if we wait, we might lose more of our fantastic food scene to COVID-19.

Unfortunately, the survey also found that 40 percent of restaurant operators think it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now if there are no additional relief packages from the federal government. The National Restaurant Association highlighted this for Congress and the Trump Administration, asking them to use bipartisan support to pass small business programs in stand-alone bills. Specifically, the NRA is asking for a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) with changes to ensure that mid-sized operators can benefit from it; to codify that business expenses paid with PPP loans are tax deductible; refundable tax credits for restaurants investments in PPE, training and costs to extend outdoor seating, etc.; and to enhance the Employee Retention Tax Credit.

Meanwhile the local hotel industry is also suffering. In June 2020, the hotel occupancy in Rhode Island was at only 40.2 percent compared to 75.3 percent in June 2019, and with the loss in events and conventions, occupancy is expected to further plummet.

What if we all made an effort to help out our local restaurant and hotel scene? Maybe you could go out to dinner at a favorite restaurant and book a staycation at a Rhode Island hotel to help keep our local economy afloat? We’ve all been through a lot, and a chance to relax and recharge at a local hotel may be just what the doctor ordered. Parents might even consider a one-nighter to relax and recharge after a few crazy months with remote learning and summer exhaustion with energetic kiddos. Or maybe mom deserves a night to herself to finally get a good night’s sleep after taking care of everyone for so long? If you have the means to do it, you deserve it. I am a fan of the momcation.

Hotels are making every effort to implement “Stay Safe” cleaning and safety protocols. They are working in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “The hotel industry in Rhode Island is a supporter of the ‘Safe Stay’ initiative and we are implementing these new safety and cleaning protocols to ensure our guests feel comfortable and safe while staying at one of our hotels,” says Venturini.

Vacations away may be put on hold. But if you’re not going to spend that money traveling afar, why not book a staycation and put your extra dollars into your neighbors’ pockets while supporting small businesses and hotels for the good of Rhode Island.



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