States roll out reopening plans, despite concerns

By: Nations Restaurant News

As some restaurants opened for dine-in business in Georgia, Tennessee and Alaska this week, a number of other states are poised to begin lifting restrictions on Friday, including Texas, Oklahoma, Utah and parts of Iowa.

Texas officials earlier this week announced that restaurants will be allowed to open for limited-dine-in service on May 1, for example. In Iowa, restrictions will be lifted for most restaurants — except those in 22 counties, where higher rates of COVID-19 cases have been reported.

Parts of Florida, Missouri, Montana and Nebraska are preparing to begin lifting restaurant restrictions on May 4.

In other states, the timeline is not clear. In Minnesota, for example, the stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire on May 4, but state officials at press time had not indicated when restrictions on restaurants might be lifted. Similarly, a stay-at-home order is to expire Friday in Ohio, but Gov. Mike DeWine this week said restaurants and bars will remain closed for dine-in business there without indicating an end date.

Kentucky has also not given a timeline.

“Our governor is being pretty cautious, but no mention of dining rooms opening yet,” Kentucky Restaurant Association president and CEO Stacy Roof said.

And many states are pushing further into May or later to lift restrictions. In Idaho, for example, restaurants must submit a plan for reopening to be allowed to open for dine-in service under Phase 2 of a state plan, scheduled to begin May 16.

In Hawaii, stay-at-home orders have been extended through May 31. Louisiana, Wyoming and Colorado are looking at mid-May to allow restaurant dine-in service.

The governors of California, Washington state, Nevada and Oregon have a Regional Pact to Recovery that includes a coordination of business reopening. Timelines have not been disclosed but restaurants are likely to face similar capacity restrictions and operational mandates.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has indicated restaurants and bars will remain closed for dine in until the end of May.

And in New York state, the hardest hit by coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the restart will be gradual and will vary by region, with upstate opening sooner and restrictions around New York City staying in place longer. Beyond that, no timeline had been disclosed.

Cuomo is reportedly being advised by a committee that includes restaurateur Danny Meyer, founder of Union Square Hospitality Group, as well as Tren’ness Woods-Black, owner of the restaurant Sylvia’s, and Andrew Rigie, president of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

Even in states that have allowed dine-in to resume, many restaurant operators remain reluctant to reopen, fearing they will contribute to an increase in coronavirus cases if workers and guests are interacting in a dine-in setting.

Here’s a brief rundown of states that are planning to open this week or in May, along with local guidelines for dine-in service where available:

Alaska: Restaurants were allowed to reopen for limited dine-in service on April 24. Table service is allowed as long as restaurants follow a set of guidelines established by the state including: groups dining indoors are limited to household members only; limit capacity to 25% of occupancy of building; no walk-in seating, reservation only; outdoor dining can have no more than 20 tables, which must be 10 feet apart.

Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp reopened the state for business on April 27. Restaurants are limited to no more than 10 patrons per 500 square feet inside, parties are limited to six per table, all employees must wear masks, salad bars and buffets are prohibited and restaurants must use pre-rolled silverware.

Tennessee: Gov. Bill Lee lifted statewide restrictions on Monday, but he also acknowledged that counties may keep restrictions in place longer, and many are doing that out of concern that businesses are opening too soon. Those that do open, however, are limited to 50% capacity, and tables must be six feet apart. No parties larger than six per table. Customer screening, including temperature checks, are recommended as best practice. All workers  must wear masks and waiting areas must be marked for social distancing. Bar areas must remain closed and no live music is permitted.

Texas: Starting May 1, restaurants will be allowed to open for dine-in service, but they will be limited to 25% capacity. Valet services will be forbidden, except for vehicles with placards or plates for disabled parking. Food courts and play areas must remain closed.

Iowa: Restaurants can reopen dining rooms on May 1 in 77 counties, but limit seating to half capacity or less, with no self-service/buffets. No groups larger than six, and tables must be six feet apart. Bars must remain closed. In the remaining 22 counties, restaurants are limited to drive-thru, pickup and delivery through May 15.

Utah: Gov. Gary Herbert reportedly on Tuesday scaled the state’s coronavirus risk level to “moderate,” allowing businesses like restaurants to reopen for limited operation on May 1. Guests and workers must practice social distancing, wear masks and workers must have temperature checks each shift.

Oklahoma: Restaurants will be allowed to begin reopening starting May 1 under Phase 1 of the Open Up and Recover Safely plan announced Tuesday. Guidelines include social distancing required between tables and in waiting areas, condiments must be removed from tables and, if requested, sanitized after use. Hand sanitizer must be supplied to guests. Employees and vendors should be screened for symptoms, including temperature. Masks must be worn for all staff/customer interactions and by kitchen workers if they can’t keep a safe distance. Bars closed and banquets prohibited until phase 2.

Missouri: Gov. Mike Parson on Monday announced the first phase of the Show Me Strong Recovery Plan to reopen on May 4. The first phase is scheduled to last until May 31.

During this phase, restaurants are allowed to offer dine-in services, but they must adhere to social distancing and other precautions, including spacing tables six feet apart and prohibiting communal seating areas.

Self-serve options like salad bars and buffets should be regulated, restaurants should use disposable menus and employees should use personal protective equipment, if available. The continued use of drive-thru, pickup and delivery is encouraged.

Nebraska: Starting May 4, restaurants will be allowed to offer dine-in service but limited to 50% capacity, with six feet of separation and no more than six per table. Self-service and salad bars prohibited, no bar seating and guests can only consume alcohol on premise with a meal.

Florida: Gov. Ron DeSantis’s stay-at-home order is set to expire on April 30.  The governor on Wednesday reportedly said restaurants will be able to open May 4 at 25% of capacity in certain parts of the state. Hard-hit areas like Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are excluded. Bars and nightclubs will remain closed until later phases of the reopening.

OPENING IN MID-MAY OR LATER

Arkansas: Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday that restaurants will be allowed to reopen for dine-in on May 11, but limited to one-third of their capacity. Tables must be spaced at least six feet apart and no parties larger than 10 will be permitted. Workers must wear masks and be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, including fever. Bars and bar areas within restaurants must stay closed. Hutchinson also announced a proposed $15 million grant program to allow businesses to apply for funding for personal protective equipment or other expenses.

Alabama: Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced a shift from the current stay-at-home order to a “Safer at Home” order starting April 30. Businesses will gradually reopen — but not restaurants, which remain limited to takeout, pickup and delivery through May 15.

Here are some guidelines proposed by a state task force for restaurants when they are allowed to open for dine-in service.

South Carolina: Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order on April 20 to begin reopening select public areas and sectors of private businesses, including access to beaches, and select retail stores like furniture, florists, book and music stores and clothing retailers. On April 24, gyms, hair salons, and barbershops were also reopened.

All businesses set to reopen must do so at no more than 20% capacity or five people per 1,000 square feet. Restaurants were not mentioned in the April 20 executive order and according to the Governor, any businesses not listed “will remain closed until further notice.”

The South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association formed a task force to submit a plan to the State House legislature for how restaurants can safely re-open to the public. McMaster issued another executive order on April 27 extending the state’s state of emergency for another 15 days. It will expire on May 12.

Louisiana: Gov. John Bel Edwards has extended the state’s stay-at-home order until May 15 and does not currently meet the requirements for a Phase One economy reopening. The new stay at home order will relax some of the previously strict restrictions on private businesses.

Malls will remain closed but stores can open for curbside delivery.Restaurants will be allowed to open their outside areas to the public for dine-in meals, while dining rooms will remain closed. All employees who work in a business that has contact with the public must wear a mask. People are urged to wear masks whenever they are in public.

On May 15, providing the state meets federal requirements for Phase One, Louisiana will lift the stay at home order and allow businesses like salons, churches, and restaurants to reopen with occupancy restrictions limited to 25%. Bel Edwards is scheduled to make the next announcement on Phase One on May 11.

Colorado: Under Safer at Home phase and restaurants will not be permitted to reopen for dine in until state meets certain data points. The Colorado Restaurant Association indicates the governor is “hopeful” that restaurants will be able to reopen at limited capacity around May 15, depending on data about spread of the virus.

Hawaii: Gov. David Ige extended until May 31 the stay-at-home order across the state. No decision has been made on when restaurants can reopen for dine-in service, the governor’s office told NRN.

“I know this has been difficult for everyone. Businesses need to reopen. People want to end this self-isolation and we want to return to normal,” Ige said when announcing the extension on April 25. “But this virus is potentially deadly, especially for the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Thanks to our residents, we are flattening the curve, saving lives, and avoiding a resurgence of this virus by not reopening prematurely.”

For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.

Sam’s Club to donate $1 million to a non-profit organizations that provides financing to small businesses

By Thad Rueter – Progressivegrocer.com

Sam’s Club will donate $1 million to a national non-profit organization that provides financing to small businesses – one of the latest ways that food retailers are trying to offset the massive economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The members-only retailer said those donations could ultimately help small businesses that buy from Sam’s Club to at least stay on their feet until the economy starts to reopen. Many businesses source food and related supplies from Sam’s Club, which, of course, also sells food to individual consumers.

Sam’s Club will donate that sum to the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, or LISC, which says it “works with a vast network of community-based partners to make investments” in business and other sectors. LISC is working to provide financial assistance to small businesses hurt by the pandemic. Some 90% of them have been impacted by the closures and other problems since the spread of the virus, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a trade group.

Small businesses can apply online via LISC to receive $10,000 grants to help offset pandemic losses. “We will deploy grants to help them bridge the financial gap, and deliver technical assistance to help them navigate the intricate web of public and private resources now available,” the nonprofit said. “LISC will focus these efforts on historically underserved communities — especially those enterprises owned or led by women, minorities and veterans, which often lack access to affordable capital.”

Gaining access to fresh capital isn’t the only challenge for small businesses during the pandemic. Visibility also presents a problem – that is, making sure consumers are aware of the many small businesses that are still around even amid these pandemic troubles. To that end, Sam’s Club is taking another step designed to help its small business members.

“We’re giving our own small business members some extra visibility by sharing some of their stories on social and in email,” the food retailer said. “Over the coming weeks, we’ll be collecting information from our small business members on how they are operating in the current environment and distributing that information back out to members in their areas.”

The pandemic promises to bring lasting changes not only to small businesses but to the supply chain for food retail, as a recent analysis from Progressive Grocer shows. Retail chains are already improvising supply chain improvements in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. A recent example comes from Sam’s Club parent Walmart. It is offering its suppliers fresh resources designed to speed the supplier on-boarding process, among other moves. Given the size and influence of Walmart and Sam’s Club, it’s a safe bet their recent moves could encourage other food retailers to make their own changes, even if on a much smaller scale.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart Inc. operates about 11,500 stores under 56 banners in 27 countries, and ecommerce websites, employing more than 2.2 million associates worldwide. The Bentonville, Ark.-based mega-retailer is No. 1 on Progressive Grocer’s 2019 Super 50 list of the top grocers in the United States.

PayPal, Square Start Lending to Small Businesses Hurt by Virus

Financial-technology firms PayPal Holdings Inc.Square Inc. and Intuit Inc. are starting to lend to small businesses that couldn’t get access to coronavirus relief funds through the biggest U.S. banks.

Fintechs had been pushing to provide emergency loans to small businesses since mid-March, more than a week before passage of federal legislation that created the Paycheck Protection Program. The companies have said that they can approve loans faster than traditional banks and reach the most vulnerable businesses but ran into obstacles before getting Small Business Administration approval.

“The PPP program has manual checks and processes that require time, and we’re doing the best we can despite having tech that can operate at scale and efficiency,” said Brian Peters, executive director of Financial Innovation Now, an industry group that counts PayPal and Square as members. Fintechs have had to “retool their lending programs to make PPP work.

PayPal Chief Executive Officer Dan Schulman was on calls with the Treasury Department for weeks prior to getting PPP approval Friday, including speaking directly with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to a company representative. They discussed PayPal’s capacity and capabilities to get funds in a timely manner to small and midsize businesses, particularly those from disadvantaged areas or demographics.

One reason it took fintechs longer than traditional banks to participate in the PPP was that they had to wait on final authorization from the Small Business Administration, said Karen Mills, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former SBA administrator. The Treasury Department and the SBA didn’t release the application form for fintech and other non-bank lenders until last week.

“I think the fintechs were working very hard on the front end, but the back end of the pipe that hooks up to the fire hose of money, they had to wait for the Treasury for that,” Mills said.

The SBA didn’t provide an immediate comment.

PayPal, Square and Intuit all serve small businesses that are often overlooked by large banks because it’s costly for them to underwrite very small loans, according to Jo Ann Barefoot, chief executive officer of the Alliance for Innovative Regulation.

Smaller Loans

As many as 70% of PayPal’s small-business loans go to U.S. counties that have lost 10 or more banks since the financial crisis in 2008, according to Schulman. The company’s loans are generally less than $25,000 each — something true as well for small businesses seeking help from PayPal under the PPP, Schulman said in an email.

Square also serves borrowers that “have been locked out of the financial system,” said Jackie Reses, Square Capital lead. Women make up 55% of Square Capital borrowers, and 37% are under-represented minorities, she said in an interview.

Under the PPP, financial institutions including Bank of America Corp. have been favoring existing small-business customers because the process is easer if a borrower has been previously approved. On Monday, a federal judge ruled that preferential treatment under the CARES Act wouldn’t be barred after Bank of America was sued by a number of small businesses for being left out.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio said Monday on Twitter that the main challenge with PPP is no longer lender confusion, but that more lenders, including non-bank lenders, are needed to speed up distribution.

Fintechs are starting to take part in the PPP when almost three-quarters of the $349 billion program has already been allocated. The funding may run out as early as Thursday, top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said. An effort to add an additional $250 billion has stalled in Congress.

PayPal is offering access to the PPP to its existing 10 million merchants through a relationship with WebBank, a Salt Lake City-based bank that it already partners with for its Working Capital business. The company’s first emergency-loan borrowers include a chiropractic office in Kansas City, Missouri; a nail salon in Bayonne, New Jersey; and a shoe store in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the PayPal representative said.

Automated Process

Intuit is using QuickBooks Capital, its existing business-loan platform, to automate and expedite the PPP application process, according to a company statement. Square’s program is first being offered to users of the Square payments platform, but the company said it plans to extend it to other borrowers once processes start moving more efficiently. The company has yet to approve any PPP applications.

“We launched when we were confident we could provide a smooth processing experience for all applicants, to give sellers more transparency around the status of their funds,” Reses said. “This is also why we’ve staggered our application rollout to Square sellers, as loan reviews are still a manual process.”

Now that fintechs have PPP approval, the next challenge is getting enough funding from the federal government to reach everyone in need, said Mills of Harvard Business School.

“I’m encouraged by the progress,” she said, “but we are not quite at the point we need to be where billions of dollars are flowing seamlessly to smaller and more vulnerable businesses.”

— With assistance by Mark Niquette

Small business rescue loan program hits $349 billion limit and is now out of money

  • The Small Business Administration says it’s “unable to accept new applications for the Paycheck Protection Program based on available appropriations funding.”
  • It adds: “Similarly, we are unable to enroll new PPP lenders at this time.”
  • The first-come, first-serve Paycheck Protection Program of $349 billion had promised to ease some of the financial burden for the nation’s smallest businesses.

The Small Business Administration’s rescue loan program hit its $349 billion limit on Thursday and is now out of money as the nation’s top Republicans and Democrats struggle to agree on how to restore its funds.

The SBA website reads that it is “unable to accept new applications for the Paycheck Protection Program based on available appropriations funding. Similarly, we are unable to enroll new PPP lenders at this time.”

The announcement from the SBA on Thursday comes as scores of small American business owners work to deal with the fallout of the coronavirus and the move by some states to shutter the vast majority of commerce.

The first-come, first-served Paycheck Protection Program of $349 billion, approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March, had promised to assuage some of the financial burden for the nation’s smallest business owners.

Signs that the program was reaching critical capacity first came on Wednesday, when the SBA said the aid may be nearing a ceiling for loan commitments, with more than 1.3 million loans given approval at a value of more than $296 billion. By Wednesday evening, $315 billion had been approved, a person familiar with the situation told CNBC.

Staffers for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are expected to continue talks with the Treasury Department on Thursday, a senior Democratic aide told CNBC. Those discussions will follow a similar one Wednesday afternoon as the nation’s top Democrats and Republicans seek to hash out the new funding just a few weeks after Congress passed the historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief spending package.

Though lawmakers appear close to extending funds for the programs, the pace at which U.S. small businesses exhausted the initial $349 billion program likely speaks to the extent and severity state-imposed business closures are having on restaurants, gas stations and other mom and pop retailers across the country.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, employing 47% of all workers. In high-cost cities, the median small business has only enough cash to cover 2-3 weeks of expenses,” wrote Ron Temple, head of U.S. equity at Lazard Asset Management.

“It’s critical for both parties to recognize the unprecedented stress on small business and their employees from this crisis, and pass incremental funding as an urgent priority,” he added.

Senate Democrats last week blocked a move by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to push through an additional $250 billion for the program. Republicans then later rejected Democrats’ proposal that sought $250 billion in funds to small businesses, hospitals, states and food assistance programs.

A historic drop in retail sales in March, a 5 million jump in jobless claims and weaker manufacturing data released this week have all suggested the U.S. economy is likely already in a deep recession. Job losses in the food services and lodging industries, in particular, have led the U.S. economy to erase nearly all the job gains accrued in the last 11 years.

 CNBC’s Lauren Hirsch contributed reporting.

Here Are Current Temporary Restrictions Imposed Bars And Restaurants Stem Spread

As the coronavirus epidemic continues to spread throughout the United States, local and state governments are implementing temporary measures to limit the number of people gathering at restaurants and bars.

Nation’s Restaurant News has collected the most recent restrictions from official statements and news reports.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. EST March 19.

As of March 16 at 2 p.m. EST, the CDC recommends gatherings of no more than 50 people.

These states updated or added restrictions on March 19: Atlanta, Texas

These states updated or added restrictions on March 17: Florida, Miami-Dade County, Nevada, North Carolina, Orange County, Calif., South Carolina, Wisconsin

These states updated or added restrictions after 5 p.m. EST March 16: Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont, Dallas, Harris County, Houston, San Antonio

Here are the limits currently imposed at the state level:  

California: Bars, nightclubs, wineries and brewpubs are closed. Restaurants must cut capacity by half to ensure tables are six feet apart.

Colorado: Restaurants and bars will be closed for dine from 8 a.m. March 17 for 30 days. Delivery, drive thru and takeout will be available.

Connecticut: Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned. Restaurants and bars are restricted to delivery and takeout only, effective March 16 at 8 p.m.

Florida: Bars and nightclubs will be closed for the next 30 days. Restaurants must limit customer entry to 50% capacity and stagger seating to ensure guests are a minimum of six feet apart when dining in.

Illinois: Restaurants and bars must close dining rooms through March 30, but delivery, takeout and curbside pickup allowed.

Indiana: Bars and restaurants must close through March 31, but takeout and delivery are allowed.

Kentucky: Restaurants and bars must be closed with limited exceptions for takeout and delivery.

Louisiana: Restaurants and bars will be closed until April 13 except for takeout or delivery. Gatherings of 50 or more people are prohibited.

Massachusetts: Gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited. Bars and restaurants must remain closed for dine in March 17 through April 5, but delivery and takeout are allowed.

Maryland: Restaurants and bars must close until further notice at 5 p.m. on March 16 but carryout, delivery and drive-thru are allowed.

Michigan: Restaurant and bar dining rooms are closed as of March 16 at 3 p.m. Delivery, takeout and drive-thru are allowed.

Minnesota: Restaurants and bars are closed for dine in from 5 p.m. March 17 until 5 p.m. March 27. Delivery, takeout and drive-thru are allowed.

New Jersey: Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned and a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. will be enforced. Restaurants and bars will be delivery and takeout only, all effective March 16.

New York state: Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned. Restaurants and bars are restricted to delivery and takeout only, effective March 16 at 8 p.m.

Nevada: Restaurants and bars are closed for dine in until further notice beginning at 12 p.m. March 18. Delivery, drive thru and takeout are still available.

North Carolina: Restaurants and bars are closed for dine in until further notice beginning at 5 p.m. March 17 but will be open for takeout, delivery and drive thru.

Ohio: Restaurants and bars must close dining rooms, but delivery and takeout are allowed.

Oregon: Restaurants and bars must close for dine in for one month, beginning on March 17. Gatherings of 25 or more people are prohibited.

Pennsylvania: Restaurants and bars must close dining rooms until March 27 but takeout and delivery are allowed. State-run liquor stores will close indefinately beginning March 16 at 9 p.m.

Rhode Island: All dine-in and food services will be shuttered until March 30, and public gatherings will be limited to 25 people or less. Drive-thru and takeout are allowed with a re-evaluation by the governor in two weeks.

South Carolina: Restaurants and bars are closed for dine in but takeout, delivery and drive thru are still allowed.

Texas: Restaurants and bars are closed for dine but takeout, delivery and drive thru are still allowed. Gatherings of more than 10 peole are prohibited.

Vermont: Restaurants and bars are clossed for dine in starting close of business March 17 through April 6; delivery and take out are still available. Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited.

Washington state: Restaurants and bars are closed for dine in; public gatherings are limited to 50 or fewer people. Takeout and delivery allowed.

Wisconsin: Restaurants and bars are prohibited from serving food on premises but delivery, takeout and drive thru are still available.

Here are the limits currently imposed at the municipal level: 

Atlanta: Restaurants and bars are closed for dine in until further notice beginning at midnight March 20. Takeout and delivery are still allowed.

Dallas County TX: Restaurants and bars are closed for dine in for a week after March 16 at minimum. Gatherings of more than 50 people are now prohibited.

Harris County, TX: Bars are closed effective modnight March 16.

Houston, TX: Restaurants and bars are closed for dine in for at least 15 days, effective 8 a.m. on March 17.

Los Angeles County: Restaurants and bars are closed for dine in through March 31. Delivery, drive-thru and takeout are allowed.

Miami-Dade County: Restaurants and bars with more than seating for eight people are closed for dine in. Kitchens will remain open for drive thru and delivery.

New Orleans: Restaurants and bars are closed for dine in but delivery, drive-thru and takeout are allowed.

Orange County, Calif: Restaurants and bars are closed for dine in through March 31. Delivery, drive thru and takeout are allowed

San Antonio, TX: Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited.

Washington, D.C.: Restaurants and bars will close at 10 p.m. on March 16 until April 1. Takeout and delivery will still be allowed.