December 03, 2020

Advocacy & policy chief previews 2021 restaurant industry roadmap

Kennedy says that with losses in excess of $215 billion through October, the industry remains in a holding pattern. “It's completely frustrating and unacceptable that Congress hasn't done anything substantive for restaurant businesses since passing the CARES Act in March."

As a new administration takes shape, many wonder what the future holds, and what the policy landscape will look like for restaurant operators and employees.

Speaking this week, Sean Kennedy, National Restaurant Association executive vice president of Public Affairs, said his No. 1 goal for the Association team is to advance the long-held and proven bipartisan record of the industry.

Kennedy and his team have already engaged in conversations with the incoming Biden-Harris administration's transition team, and he’s optimistic that the President-Elect’s background as a consensus-building former legislator will mean the new administration will reflect the tenor and tone of the chief executive. For our industry, that means improving the economy and helping the restaurant industry recover from the devastation brought on by the pandemic.

With losses in excess of $215 billion through October, the industry remains in a holding pattern, Kennedy says. “It's completely frustrating and unacceptable that Congress hasn't done anything substantive for restaurant businesses since passing the CARES Act in March.

Download the latest episode of our Order Up podcast to find out what Kennedy thinks the 2020 elections could mean for the restaurant industry

In the last eight months, no industry has lost more jobs and revenue than the restaurant industry. That’s why we are continuing to press for an industry-specific solution, something like the Senate version of the RESTAURANTS Act.

“The President-elect understands the country is looking for someone to get us out of the situation we're in right now,” he adds. “We’re working with the transition team on what they can do starting on Day One—from ensuring that small businesses who received PPP loans can claim tax deductions to pushing Congress to pass a comprehensive bill with a component specifically addressing industry needs.

“We're going to be as vocal and as aggressive as we can be. There are a lot of expectations on this incoming administration. It can’t go months without putting something together.”

Kennedy believes that Biden, as a seasoned legislator, is comfortable cutting deals, and that he is a party centrist. “He's going to find the gravitational center of any major political debate. He has an optimistic view of the GOP, and has worked well with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,” he says.

He notes that McConnell, President-elect Biden, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have a combined 113 years of legislative experience, and that “the COVID-19 crisis and a struggling economy demand cooperation and bipartisan agreement.” The biggest question is how much the federal government will get done in 2021.

After the contention of the 2020 election, Kennedy thinks the country might now see the rise of moderates in both parties, people ready to make common-sense progress on challenging issues.

The Association’s advocacy and policy team, in addition to its work at the federal level, will continue to focus on state and local legislation to help the industry operate more successfully during the pandemic. Those issues include:

  • Off-premises alcohol sales. During the pandemic, several states have relaxed regulations allowing the sale of takeout alcoholic beverages. This has helped struggling restaurants bring in much needed revenues, and the Association is working closely with its state partners on extending those regulations, and even making them permanent.
  • Improving zoning rules. The Association is working with local mayors and their city council members on ways to cut through red tape to improve zoning rules and permitting processes that allow restaurants to get reserved parking spots for takeout and delivery customers. This is huge for restaurants that rely on takeout and delivery to survive.

The Association and its 52 state restaurant association partners have never worked more closely than they do now, according to Kennedy. “We have a lot to get done as we move into 2021, and every state association is going to be a critical part of it.”

As the new administration begins its work, it’s important for Association members to get more involved in advocacy efforts.

“We can't let our foot off the gas,” he says. “Stay engaged … add your voice. Now's the time to weigh in. No one can stay on the sidelines. The stakes are just too high.”