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Survey: How Do You Really Feel About Restaurant Tipping?

Survey: How Do You Really Feel About Restaurant Tipping?



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What are your restaurant tipping habits? Do you tend to tip at, above, or below the national average? What number do you base your tip on? Have you ever “stiffed” a server? If so, why? And what method of tipping – automatic, voluntary, or added to the menu price – would you most like to see in a restaurant? We’re conducting a survey, and would love to hear your thoughts!

Tipping has been a bit of a hot-button issue of late. While it’s been so engrained into our dining culture that we barely even think about it, it’s actually a system that’s incredibly divisive among both customers and those who work in the dining industry. Restaurants all across the country have banned tipping (either moving toward a ticketed, pay-in-advance for the entire meal system, or adding the cost of gratuity into the price of menu items), and more and more are following suit as restaurant owners realize that oftentimes the amount of tip doesn’t reflect the actual level of service, and that in many states the base hourly wage for tipped employees is startlingly low. Some big-name chefs, including Tom Colicchio, have come out in favor of doing away with tipping, but very few have gone so far as to change their policies.

Even though it’s a complicated issue (chef Marc Vetri told us that “it’s too involved”), just about every chef has an opinion on the matter.

“My concern is always to see a slackening of standards once servers realize there's no incentive to perform that much better,” chef Kerry Heffernan told us when we asked for his opinion on restaurants abolishing tipping. “In most instances I don't see that wheel as being broken, so off the top my head I would say I would probably not want to see that as a guest.”

“This is a complex issue and one that goes to vast cultural issues,” chef Norman Van Aken added. “I have seen the weakness of [tipping] more than I have seen its strengths. I think it creates a neurotic culture in a place meant to be the antidote to that. The servers are too often made to feel an ebb and flow of self-value on each and every table. That is bad.”

Chef Jasper White feels that it would be "wonderful" to abolish tipping for two reasons: "It would be a more honest system with customers knowing almost exactly what they will be spending, and it would help us elevate the servers to a more respectable profession, as in Europe," he told us. "However, I think that Americans love to tip, and it could only be successful if a majority of restaurants abolished tipping at the same time."

So what are your thoughts? How much do you usually tip? Take the survey below, and let us know!


What is the Average Tip in America?

The average tip for perfect service in the U.S. is 20 percent. However, that number can fall as low as 6 percent for bad service. Tipping averages also vary based on the gender of the customer, the region of the country, and the specific services provided (or not provided).

We asked 999 Americans from all over the country about their current tipping habits. Do consumer thoughts on tipping align with those of service workers? What’s considered a generous gratuity in the U.S.? We’ve compiled all the tipping statistics so you can see how your own tipping behavior compares.


It was a Friday afternoon and Rodrigo, my Uber ride, was pulling up in a black Chevrolet Onix. Like the other times I had used the controversial cab service, I popped him a smile and a casual greeting as I swung into the back seat of his car. “Candy?” Rodrigo offered me as he started driving. He nodded towards the cup holder, which held at least ten colorful lozenges. I thanked him and gobbled up my favorite flavor: cherry.

“You can have another one, if you’d like,” Rodrigo said kindly. “May I take your trash?” he reached for my crumpled candy wrapper, and dropped it into a small portable trash receptacle that hung to the right of his stick shift. I thanked him again, and told him that I was impressed with his service. “It helps me keep the car clean,” Rodrigo said with a smile. “Or else people would just leave candy wrappers everywhere.” I looked around—from his freshly vacuumed floor to his squeaky leather seats, his car truly was in impeccable condition.

As he pulled up to my destination, Rodrigo asked only one thing of me: “If you wouldn’t mind filling out the customer satisfaction survey and rating my service today, I would really appreciate it,” he said.

What is a Customer Satisfaction Survey?

A customer satisfaction survey is a metric that helps companies and/or employees gauge the satisfaction level of their customers. In short, it is a questionnaire that is sent out to customers asking them about their experience. Depending on how the survey is designed, customers can convey their opinions by providing ratings, answering multiple choice questions, by filling out text boxes, or even by giving vocal feedback.

These surveys can reach customers as any of the following:

  • Emails
  • Phone calls (usually immediately following a service experience)
  • Post-chat windows
  • Pop-ups on mobile apps and websites
  • Customer interviews
  • Focus groups

Customer satisfaction surveys are as unique and varied as their distribution methods. That being said, they can vary greatly in length and the time that it takes to complete them. The general rule, however, is that the shorter and easier to answer the survey, the more likely customers are to provide their feedback.

Why Does the Customer Satisfaction Survey Matter?

Customer satisfaction surveys can be used to measure how customers feel about a number of different subjects. This may include the following:

  • The quality of service they have received
  • The speed of the service
  • Whether the customers’ expectations were met
  • Whether the customers’ issues were resolved
  • The manner or attitude of the agent
  • How likely they are to recommend the company’s product/services to a friend
  • A space for any additional comments or feedback

The customer satisfaction survey is an important metric for everyone involved in the company. It helps customer service agents see how they can improve their service. It helps supervisors see if the proper training and resources are being made available to agents. It helps corporate see if there are any management, policy, product, or system related problems that need to be addressed to improve the customer experience. It is also important for customers, whose feedback can become actionable steps towards improvement. Ultimately, by creating a dialogue with customers, the customer satisfaction survey can lead to a better customer experience in the future, and can actually increase customer loyalty and brand engagement.

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How to Promote the Customer Satisfaction Survey

A customer satisfaction survey cannot successfully exist without customer feedback

It is in everyone’s best interest—the company, the managers, and the customer service agents—to actively ask for feedback across many different types of contact, rather than just waiting for feedback to roll in. This is because when customers are not prompted to provide feedback, they will only do so in extreme situations, which ultimately is not representative of the overall service given.

For this reason, it is often crucial that customer service agents encourage customers to partake in the customer satisfaction survey. But how do you naturally fit this request into your conversation with your customers? By following the steps that we have laid out here, you will be laying the foundation for the customer satisfaction surveys to come piling in.

Win the Customer Over Through Quality Service

Remember when we said that without being prompted to do so, most customers are likely to voice their opinions only in the event of an extremely good service experience or an extremely bad service experience? That’s because, let’s face it: mediocrity doesn’t move us. One of the most important steps to take to promote the customer satisfaction survey is to win the customer over through quality service.

You can give your customers a quality customer service experience by practicing good listening skills, personalizing your service, having a warm and friendly attitude, being honest, and by putting the customer’s needs first in the form of a quick and effective resolution.

Timing is Everything

Nobody wants to be cut off just so you can squeeze in your two cents about the customer satisfaction survey. Knowing when to promote the customer satisfaction survey is a huge part of knowing how to promote it.

A good time to promote the feedback survey is towards the end of the conversation, after your customer’s issue has been resolved. Try slipping the promotion after asking, “is there anything else I can do for you today?” If the customer says yes, go ahead and resolve whatever else it is that they had in mind. If they say no, ask them if they wouldn’t mind giving you feedback. Do not promote the survey before fully resolving a customer’s issue – this could lead to frustration and dissatisfaction.

It can take a bit of practice to know exactly when to promote the customer satisfaction survey. If you mention it too early, it may seem like you are rushing your customer, and that you don’t actually care about their issue. He or she might think, “what have you done for me that I should do this for you?” However, if you mention the feedback survey too late, you could miss your chance. Your customers might be wanting to get off the phone/live chat already, and may not really want to hear anything else you have to say in the wrap-up process.

Take my Uber driver, Rodrigo, for example. Rodrigo mentioned the customer satisfaction survey at the end of the car ride, right has he was getting ready to pull over. He hadn’t stopped the car yet, so I was not rushing to get out and go on my way. At the same time, he didn’t offer too early—my destination was already in sight by the time he popped the question, and I knew that he had done his job and done it well.

Any Doubts? Check out how the agent in the following example promotes the customer feedback survey:

Customer: “Thank you so much… that was really helpful!”

Agent: “Great! Well if there is nothing else I can help you with today, I just wanted to mention we do have a brief customer satisfaction survey that we’d be very grateful if you were able to complete. You can do this by staying on the line and keying in the answers to a few questions for us.”

Customer: “Sure, that’s not a problem.”

Be Gentle, Not Pushy

Let’s say you master the art of figuring out when exactly to promote the customer satisfaction survey. Unfortunately, your perfect calculation won’t make much of a difference if you don’t know how to properly promote the survey.

Just like how they don’t appreciate feeling rushed, customers also don’t appreciate feeling pushed. It is important that when you ask your customers to take the feedback survey, that they don’t feel intruded upon or like they are being bossed around.

You can avoid creating an off-putting experience for your customer by using smart word choice. This means choosing words that function as a gentle nudge, and that position the survey as being something that is available for the customer to take in an abstract sense, rather than something that is required of them. To better illustrate this, let’s compare the following examples:

  • “If you don’t mind taking our feedback survey…”
  • “If you could please take our feedback survey…”
  • “If you have the time to take a quick survey to provide your feedback…”
  • “If you don’t mind taking the time to answer a few questions for us…”
  • “We also have a customer feedback survey available on our website…”
  • “Can you take our feedback survey?”
  • “This call is going to be followed up with a survey for you to answer.”
  • “I’m going to ask you to answer a few questions about my service.”
  • “I hope you can answer the customer satisfaction survey.”

When promoting the customer satisfaction survey, be sure to frame it in a way that will make your customers feel empowered, not like they have been roped into something against their will.

Free Download: Agent Guide: Get the Best Customer Service Metrics in Your Team

For many live chat agents, it’s not enough to be well-versed in customer service techniques. To be a truly effective live chat operator, agents also need to pay close attention to optimizing their metrics – whether it’s average handle time, customer satisfaction, first contact resolution, or sales figures.

Add a Personal Element

The customer has made a human connection with you, the customer service agent. You can win extra persuasion points by using personalized words rather than the corporate “we” to make customers more likely to take the survey.

This is especially true/potent if the customer satisfaction survey reflects directly on you rather than the company experience as a whole, or if you are given direct access to the feedback for your personal improvement. This is an especially good approach for if the customer has expressed his or her frustrations with the company, but seems pleased by the overall resolution that you have provided.

Here are some examples of how this might work:

Give a (Hopefully Brief) Realistic Time Estimate

Many customers don’t feel like they have enough time in their day for things the things they have to do, let alone that they want to do. So how are they supposed to make time for a feedback survey?

Short surveys that require minimal time and effort generally lead to a higher customer response rate for a reason. When promoting your customer satisfaction survey, be sure to show the customer that it won’t take much of their time.

This is a good practice, unless your company’s survey is actually longer and more time consuming than you say it is. When expressing the brevity of the feedback survey, it is important to be honest. Don’t say that the survey will take two minutes if it will in fact take 5. This could lead to mistrust and annoyance.

This may be an automated email rather than one sent out personally by a customer service representative, but check out how the travel website Travelgenio uses this tactic to generate a higher response rate:

Tell Customers Why the Survey Matters

There are 4 principal human motivations: achievement, power, affiliation and avoidance

This is according to the 1987 book Human Motivation by David C. McClelland, an American psychologist who spent 40 years studying what drives human motivation.

These motives can be directly linked to what drives a customer to participate in a customer feedback survey. Let’s take a look at how that might be so:

Customer: “I have the power to voice my opinion.”

Agent: “I like to feel involved in the company’s process of change.”

Customer: “I had an unfortunate situation and my feedback will help avoid it happening again.”

Let’s focus on the “achievement” motive. While you don’t want to guarantee the customer that the changes that they suggest will necessarily become reality from one day to the next, it is important to show them what the survey will do. When you attach the survey to concrete, actionable steps the company or you as an agent will be able to take, customers will be more motivated to complete the survey.

Some things that you can consider conveying to your customer are the following: Why are your customers taking this survey? What will it change? Who will it help?

Here are some examples of ways that you can express this:

Invite Customers Via Email

Usually, your company will send out customer satisfaction surveys automatically to many customers via email, and it will not be your responsibility send out individual surveys. Other times, however, that may not be the case, and you might need to follow up with your customers directly.

When inviting customers to partake in a customer satisfaction survey via email, keep your invite short and to the point. Make sure the invite corresponds with your brand identity, and that your survey looks legitimate. There may not be much you can do on this front as far as the survey’s design goes however, you can take steps to help secure this by making sure that the survey is sent from a corporate email address, and that it uses a legitimate, professional heading.

Avoid over-use of capitalization in your heading or your email body, and spammy sentences like ACT NOW! or WE NEED YOU! That will create distrust or wariness of the survey, and will make customers less likely to participate.

Heading: Customer Satisfaction Survey

Thank you again for contacting Gabby’s Home and Kitchen! Here is the customer satisfaction survey that we discussed. I appreciate your feedback, and hope you have a great weekend.

Jean C
Customer Service Representative

WE NEED YOU! ACT NOW AND ANSWER OUR FREE CUSTOMER SERVICE SURVEY TO BE ENTERED FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A FREE TOTE BAG! WE APPRECIATE YOUR FEEDBACK!

Be Vocal About Incentives

The social exchange theory states that what people give depends on what they will receive. According to private American research company, Qualtrics, to maximize customer service survey responses, the following elements should be in place:

  • The costs for responding the survey must be minimized.
  • The rewards must be maximized.
  • There must be a belief that such rewards will, in fact, be provided.

You can often see this model at work with on-site sales at retail stores, where there is minimal exchange of customer information in order to make a transaction. When handing back customer receipts, cashiers will often tell customers something like, “And if you go to our website and fill out our survey, you’ll receive a coupon for 20% off your next purchase,” or, “If you fill out our survey online, you will be entered to win a $100 gift card.”

In some cases, if a customer has received a service that they are really happy with, they have already received the “reward” part of the exchange, and may be happy to participate. Convincing an unhappy customer (who has already spent a lot of time and effort getting their issue resolved) can be a lot harder, and this is where incentives can be especially valuable.

Thank Your Customers

Conclusion

I provided feedback for my Uber driver, Rodrigo, happily, and generously. Hey, he deserved it. And so do you. When you work hard every day to take care of your customers, it is nice to have a steady stream of customer feedback reflect it.

By using these best practices to effectively promote your customer satisfaction survey, you will enable greater communication with your customers, benefiting you, the company, and them.

Want more reading? Explore how you might use scripts when promoting the customer satisfaction survey and more in our blog post, 40+ Phrases to Create Positive Scripting for Customer Service.

Free Download: Agent Guide: Get the Best Customer Service Metrics in Your Team

For many live chat agents, it’s not enough to be well-versed in customer service techniques. To be a truly effective live chat operator, agents also need to pay close attention to optimizing their metrics – whether it’s average handle time, customer satisfaction, first contact resolution, or sales figures.

About Isabella Steele

Isabella is a freelance editor, writer, and blogger with Comm100. She is passionate about helping people, teams, and organizations grow into their full potential, and excel in their service. In her spare time, you can find her traveling, painting, or drinking copious amounts of coconut water. Connect with Isabella on LinkedIn.


Do I Have To Tip For Takeout? Here’s When It's Okay To Skip The Tip Jar — And When It’s Not

Is it always assumed I'll throw in a couple bucks? We asked the experts about the tipping protocol for takeout, delivery and coffee-shop orders.

By Amy Grief Updated January 23, 2018

Tipping can be a touchy subject. Across Canada, it’s pretty much a given you’ll tip a server at a sit-down restaurant anywhere from 15 to 25 percent for good service, depending on the city. But what’s the protocol at your local coffee shop — do you have to add to the tip jar? What about when you’re getting takeout? Or when you’re having dinner delivered?

Toronto-based etiquette expert Lisa Orr, who often comments on tipping standards, says it all depends on the type of service being provided and if you feel a tip is warranted. Here, Orr and food-industry insiders weigh in on when you have to tip, how much to leave and when it’s okay to avoid the tip jar altogether.

Do I have to tip at the coffee shop?

What the etiquette expert says: Most independent coffee shops have tip jars by the cash register and if you pay with credit or debit, the card reader will often prompt you to tip. “Anywhere that there is a tip jar, there is a sense that if there’s extra change [after paying], you might leave some,” says Orr. However tipping at the coffee shop is completely optional, according to Orr. If you get exceptional service (or an unreal Americano), you might want to consider chucking in your change. Just don’t expect your loonies and toonies to go directly to your favourite barista. Most of the time, employees split the money evenly.

Four Restaurant Servers On How Much You Should Really Tip What the baristas say: Mikayla, who works at a Starbucks in downtown Montreal, agrees that tipping is optional but much appreciated. She says most customers throw their change in the tip jar, usually leaving about 15 to 20 cents and rarely more than a dollar or two. Brendan, an indie cafe manager in Dartmouth, N.S., says tipping is part of the coffee-shop culture on the East Coast. Tips, he explains, make all the difference for full-time baristas working for minimum wage. When he works behind the counter at his small shop, he pulls in enough tips to substantially boost his paycheck. Customers usually leave their change and occasionally larger coins, which is what he expects, but would never snub anyone who doesn’t leave a tip.

Do I have to tip for takeout?

What the etiquette expert says: Just like at coffee shops, tipping on takeout orders is optional, says Orr. “There isn’t an expectation that you tip since you haven’t [received service].” If you’re paying with cash, you can always round up or leave some change as a gesture of good will, but that’s totally your call.

What a takeout guy says: Jim Vesal is the director of culinary and business development at Vancouver’s popular vegan pizza joint Virtuous Pie, which only offers counter service. Vesal agrees that tipping on takeout orders is optional, though it’s always appreciated by staff and estimates 80 percent of customers tip. Those who do usually leave 15 percent.

Do I have to tip for delivery?

What the etiquette expert says: Over the past few years, meal delivery services have exploded all over Canada, making it easy to get food from your favourite restaurants to your front door. “Adding a few extra dollars for the person who’s come to your door, especially in the middle of a Canadian winter, is the decent thing to do,” says Orr. A few dollars on top of the total (usually around 10 percent) would be appropriate for this type of service. Consider leaving more on big orders.

What the delivery guy says: Charles, who works part-time as a bike courier for the delivery service Foodora in Toronto, estimates he gets tipped on half of his deliveries. He hopes to receive for $2 to $3 per delivery and more for larger orders. However, he says, “I think I should be getting closer to 15 percent, like a server. We are biking across town, after all.”


Meals respondents can without a recipe

1. Eggs over easy: 49%
2. Scrambled eggs: 46%
3. Hard-boiled eggs: 44%
4. Poached eggs: 44%
5. French toast: 41%
6. Soup: 36%
7. Grilled cheese: 36%
8. Pasta: 36%
9. Rice: 36%
10. Salad: 36%
11. Toast: 34%
12. Beans: 33%
13. Pancakes: 31%
14. Roasted chicken: 30%
15. Mashed potatoes: 29%
16. Bacon: 29%
17. Grilled vegetables: 27%
18. Tacos: 27%
19. Mac and cheese: 26%
20. Grilled steak: 25%


Survey question mistake #3: Not asking direct questions

Questions that are vague and do not communicate your intent can limit the usefulness of your results. Make sure respondents know what you’re asking.

What suggestions do you have for improving Tom’s Tomato Juice?

This question may be intended to obtain suggestions about improving taste, but respondents will offer suggestions about texture, the type of can or bottle, about mixing juices, or even suggestions relating to using tomato juice as a mixer or in recipes.

What do you like to do for fun?

Finding out that respondents like to play Scrabble isn’t what the researcher is looking for, but it may be the response received. It is unclear that the researcher is asking about movies vs. other forms of paid entertainment. A respondent could take this question in many directions.


Restaurant Revitalization Fund ‘Amazing Step,’ But Work Remains

The industry is set to get a $28.6 billion boost. Here's what to know.

In March 2020, Sean Kennedy recognized COVID-19’s arrival as a “shattering moment for the industry.” The National Restaurant Association’s EVP of public affairs crunched numbers as officials warned against dining out, and then, piece-by-piece, mandated lockdowns across the country.

There was little time for a pipe dream. Kennedy penned a March 18 letter to Congressional leadership saying the Association anticipated sales to plunge by $225 billion over the next three months, with five to seven million jobs gone. Also, an immediate economic impact of $675 billion, given every dollar spent in restaurants generates an additional $2 elsewhere in the national economy.

Kennedy asked the Department of Treasury to create a $145 billion Restaurant and Foodservice Industry Recovery Fund and to set aside $35 billion for Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Relief assistance, like those put into action after 9/11.

Between then and January 2021, restaurant and foodservice sales ended up $225 billion down from projections. The sector closed the calendar with 2.5 million fewer jobs. One in six—or roughly 110,000—establishments were closed and not open for business in any capacity. Shuttered either temporarily or permanently. Which one exactly won’t be clear for some time.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition estimated the industry was more than $219 billion short and shed nearly 50 percent, or 5.9 million, of jobs between February and April 2020. Somewhere around 4.5 million of those belonged to independent restaurants.

But, as hard as it might be to imagine, it could have been worse if not for some “base hits and small wins,” Kennedy says in an interview with QSR. “We’ve just continually pushed for [these] knowing that in the aggregate they’re going to make a big difference.”

Kennedy’s referencing things like the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act from June, which addressed glaring holes in the first attempt and has provided more than $70 billion in support for restaurants to date. A second round where restaurants could take 3.5 times monthly payroll versus two months for most businesses. The Employee Retention Tax Credit. Extension of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. Inclusion in the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program. Keeping PPP benefits from being taxed.

If these were foundational blocks to survival, though, Thursday’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund felt like the glue operators truly need to start piecing a broken jigsaw back together.

President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law Thursday, creating a $28.6 billion fund the Association called “the most important recovery tool for the industry to date.”

Kennedy admitted it’s far from the final battle. He expects to approach Congress again in the future to replenish the fund or expand it, as the $28.6 billion is sure to move fast. And frankly, it’s not enough.

Yet it’s still an “amazing step forward,” Kennedy says.

Let’s go through what’s available.

  • Eligible businesses can receive a tax-free federal grant equal to the amount of its pandemic-related revenue loss, which is calculated by subtracting 2020 gross receipts from 2019 gross recipes.
  • If the restaurant was not in operation for the entirety of 2019, the total is the difference between 12 times the average monthly gross receipts for 2019 and the average monthly gross receipts in 2020 (or a formula from SBA).
  • If the business was not in operation until 2020, it can receive a grant equal to the amount of “eligible expenses” subtracted by its gross recipes received.
  • If the restaurant was not yet in operation as of the application date, but it has made “eligible expenses,” the grant would be made equal to those expenses.

Deduction of first and second draw PPP loan funds

Pandemic-related revenue losses for businesses are reduced by any amounts from PPP first draw and second draw loans in 2020 and/or 2021.

Distribution

The SBA can adjust awards based on demand and “relative local costs” in the markets where Restaurant Revitalization Fund businesses operate. Otherwise:

  • $23.6 billion is available for the SBA to award in an equitable manner to businesses of different sizes based on annual gross receipts.
  • $5 billion is available to restaurants with gross receipts of $500,000 or less during 2019 (this is targeted toward independent entities).
  • Maximum: The total grant amount for an eligible business and any affiliated businesses is capped at $10 million and is limited to $5 million per physical location of the business.

Some other things to consider:

The program will, for a 21-day period out of the gate, prioritize awarding grants for small businesses owned and controlled by women, veterans, or socially and economically disadvantaged operators. This is an effort to include and push forward some of the same parties that felt left out by the PPP in its initial go-around.

Eligible expenses are those incurred from February 15, 2020, to December 31, 2021, or a date determined by the SBA. If all grant funds are not spent by the business, or the business permanently closes before the end of the covered period, the business must return unused funds to the Treasury.

Perhaps the biggest change from the PPP concerns eligible expenses. Restaurants can use funds on payroll principal or interest on mortgage obligations rent utilities maintenance including construction to accommodate outdoor seating supplies such as protective equipment and cleaning materials normal food and beverage inventory certain covered supplier costs operational expenses paid sick leave and any other expenses that the SBA determines to be essential to maintaining operations.

The PPP, after adjustments were made in June, required a 60/40 split with the higher figure spent on payroll in order to get the loan forgiven. That was reduced from 75/25 originally. Many restaurants, especially those in high-rent markets like New York City, lamented the structure. In fact, according to a survey by the NYC Hospitality Alliance, more than 90 percent of NYC restaurants couldn’t afford to pay rent in December—a number that steadily increased throughout the pandemic. In June, it was 80 percent. By July, 83 percent. In August and October, 87 and 88 percent, respectively.

“ It’s an expansive definition that will provide immediate use of those funds,” Kennedy says. “As soon as they get the check they will have no problem putting those funds to work to keep their doors open.”

Unlike the PPP, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund will be administered by the SBA.

Who is eligible?

To receive a grant, you must own or operate 20 or fewer establishments (together with any affiliated businesses), regardless of ownership type of the locations and whether those locations do business under the same or multiple names, as of March 13, 2020.

The wording is critical, Kennedy says. The Association fought to open this in recent months as the RESTAURANTS Act, first proposed by thousands of IRC supporters in an April 2020 letter to Congress , moved from the House to Senate. Kennedy says they wanted to ensure franchisees could access grants, too, and chains were not excluded.

The Act that came out of the House, he says, “only picked winners and losers.”

“That’s not fair and that’s not fair for the franchise models,” he says.

The IRC, which said it's sent more 100,000 emails to Congressional offices over the months, was initially in favor of the House version of the $120 billion grant proposal, while the Association, as Kennedy notes, supported the Senate’s more neutral take. The sides have been talking since May.

Now, under the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, if you own 20 or fewer restaurants, you’re in. That’s the line.

“It says … if you’re a suffering restaurant, you deserve equal access to federal relief as any other model,” Kennedy says. “And that is what the Restaurant Revitalization Fund reflects.”

“At the end of the day, every restaurant is a small business,” he adds.” And after 12 months, it doesn’t matter what logo is on the uniform—you’re in a world of hurt.”

With that said, e ligible entities include a restaurant, food stand, food truck, food cart, caterer, saloon, inn, tavern, bar, lounge, brewpub, tasting room, taproom, licensed facility or premise of a beverage alcohol producer where the public may taste, sample, or purchase products, or other similar place of business in which the public or patrons assemble for the primary purpose of being served food or drink.

These businesses can apply using their existing business identifiers, as the SBA will avoid imposing additional burdens on applications.

One thing to point out—publicly traded companies are ineligible. Kennedy says larger restaurants will likely come up in later talks. But for now, the focus is on smaller operators and entities.

Restaurants must submit a good faith certification when applying that:

  • Uncertainty of current economic conditions makes necessary the grant request to support the ongoing operations.
  • The entity has not applied for nor received a “Shuttered Venue Operators” grant (generally for performing arts, live venues, theaters, etc.).
  • The grants are not taxed like income, and all normal federal tax deductions are protected.

Also to consider: The ERTC, which allows employers to write off up to 70 percent of funds spent to pay employees, is extended by two months in the American Rescue Plan, through August. The credit, taken against the restaurant’s portion of Social Security Taxes, can go up to $7,000 per quarter, per employee. It targets operators who retained staff.

The PPP received an additional $7.25 billion in funding from the Plan. Deadline for applications remains March 31.

To the earlier concern of funds running dry, Riley Lagesen, national restaurant industry practice group chair for Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, told Law360 some operators could be left out. And he’s also concerned with the fund’s lack of an underwriting process that might assess a restaurant’s ability to survive even after it receives a grant. Additionally, Lagesen said businesses that took out PPP loans will have those funds deducted from any grants they receive. “ It's not the best available act, but the best act available,” he told the publication. “We've seen so many iterations and discussions of the House and Senate acts since May, it's very hard to find a perfect solution to this massive problem faced by the restaurant industry."

“ For us, recovery is still going to be a priority,” Kennedy says. “But we are already looking ahead to saying what are the issues that we need to be engaged on, as it relates to workforce development. As it relates to immigration. What do we do about the minimum wage? What do we do about reopening guidance? How do we get states to have more of a science-based approach to what indoor dining capacity should be? We are really pleased with the Restaurant Revitalization Fund but our work is far from over for 2021.”

While details are not yet fully available, the program appears to be direct-to-recipient, similar to the EIDL Advance program (with applications accepted through an online portal from SBA’s site), rather than a bank-administered program like the PPP, according to Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.

Looking ahead, and minimum wage

Kennedy believes the industry, even with Thursday’s positive turn, remains fragile. It needs four things to click.

One is continued vaccinations so state officials feel comfortable loosening indoor dining restrictions. The good news is Biden said all Americans should be eligible by May 1, which would put the nation on a path to normalcy by July 4.

Regardless of what innovative and creative outlets operators turn to, the sector as a whole is simply not sustainable without indoor dining, Kennedy says. Those capacity limits need to come down.

The industry also needs a return to business and travel. It needs urban markets to open and for people to dine out when they head to LA, New Orleans, New York, St. Louis, and so on.

Restaurants need people to go back out again, or a return to mobility.

And lastly, it requires a federal relief program that’s working. “Because all of those steps, those first things, they’re going to be slow in coming,” Kennedy says. “Cruise ship travel to New Orleans is not going to be where it was anytime soon.”

“We were the first industry to be shut down,” he adds. “And we’re going to be the last industry to come back on line. And we need recognition from policy makers that things are still incredibly fragile right now.”

Mark Wasilefsky, head of Restaurant Franchise Finance Group, TD Bank, echoed Kennedy’s broader take on recovery and says some changes will stick. “ During COVID-19, we have seen restaurants increasingly rely on online and mobile ordering and drive thru capabilities, accelerating an already growing segment of the market,” he says. “Consumer adoption of these methods will not go away once the vaccine has been broadly distributed. Rather, people have become accustomed to these offerings and I believe online and mobile ordering will still account for a large percentage of overall, and even incremental sales, and will be complemented by more traditional foot traffic and indoor dining."

“Brands are considering decreasing their physical store footprint in order to focus on their mobile and online ordering and drive thru capabilities,” he continues. “I expect that this trend will continue as restaurants focus on consumers' desire for a quick and seamless pick-up experience with limited face-to-face interaction."

Kennedy also spoke about minimum wage and the Raise the Wage Act. The Association was adamant in its “wrong bill at the wrong time” take on the effort, which did not make it into Biden’s 1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. In the initial stages, the American Rescue Plan included a $15 minimum wage increase in phases. However, the Senate parliamentarian said the provision must be removed because it doesn’t fit with budget reconciliation rules, which state all parts of the bill must affect the budget in some way. The deletion made the legislation easier to pass as a handful of Democrats weren’t in favor of the hike—key votes that were needed to pass the overall bill.

Kennedy held firm to that Friday, saying the Association was ready to have a conversation about minimum wage, but the Raise the Wage Act “is the wrong starting point.”

“ It is absolutely going to make it harder for restaurants to reopen, and it’s going to make it much more likely that more restaurants will shut down altogether,” he said.

The Raise the Wage Act proposed an increase of the federal minimum rate from $7.25 to $15 an hour over the next five years. While many states have lifted wages in recent years, the federal figure hasn’t budged since 2009. The Raise the Wage Act starts at $9.50 (it also hikes the tipped wage from $2.13 to $4.95) before lifting every year through 2025, when it would then index the minimum wage to median wages.

Also, it promised to eliminate a separate minimum wage for tipped workers.

This latter point might have been the most troubling. “ We need something that preserves the system of tipping, and we need to recognize that is good for operators, customers, and employees alike,” he says.

The Association previously said tipped servers make between $19–$25 per hour under the current tipped credit model, suggesting cutting it would actually hurt, not help workers. Federal law requires employees earn at least the federal minimum wage, or the higher state or local number in 28 states and 55 municipalities. If the combination of the base wage and earned tips does not total the required minimum wage, the employer must pay the tipped employee more to make up the difference.

If the Raise the Wage Act went through as proposed, the Association believes restaurants would simply terminate tipping, raise prices to cover higher wages, and move to an hourly wage-only system. The result being tipped employees would end up earning less in the long run.

No state has eliminated the tip credit in more than two decades. Recent attempts in Chicago, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Michigan, Virginia, New Mexico, and Maine all failed.

“ Honestly, the server community has been absolutely critical here,” Kennedy says. “We have a network of servers nationwide that recognize how the system works, recognize that it’s good for them, and don’t want to see it eliminated, and they have been very local in sharing what the tip credit enables them to accomplish in their lives. And why that goes away immediately if the tip credit is eliminated.”


José Andrés talks about feeding the National Guard, tipping and whether he’d work in the Biden administration

With a new administration in the White House, one that has already taken steps to relieve the country’s growing hunger, it seemed like the right time to check in with the man whose nonprofit organization has fed millions of vulnerable Americans during the pandemic. José Andrés picked up the phone after the first ring.

We spent the next 80-plus minutes chewing over a great many topics — or, more accurately, Andrés, 51, chewed over them and I listened. They included the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often known as food stamps the farm bill the tipped minimum wage (which President Biden would like to eliminate) feeding the National Guard during the inauguration, which drew criticism the Restaurants Act and the chef’s idea to create a secretary of food and agriculture or a national director of food and nutrition within the federal government.

Andrés’s takes can be too expansive for a simple Q&A format, which relies on short, edited excerpts from conversations that are far more nuanced. So, here I tried to provide the gist of the chef’s thinking on any one subject, in his words. I’m sure Andrés can fill in the blanks on his largest platform, his Twitter account, which has nearly a million followers.

Below are Andrés’s responses, edited for clarity and length, to the topics we discussed.

Food stamps used in restaurants

One of the things we’re going to see in the next two years, we’re going to see SNAP being used in restaurants, especially in diners.

Imagine one mother with three or four children. Wouldn’t it be smart, especially if she lives in a low-income part of the city, that she can go to a diner and order three, four meals that will be part of a special menu? Then she can take them home and feed her children and herself. I mean, we need to put ourselves in the skin of those people.

So how do you define a SNAP restaurant? Is it a fast-food restaurant? This is where politics become highly complicated. The way I see it, it will be small mom-and-pop restaurants. Why? Because you want to be helping the local economies.

We need to make sure that subsidies don’t keep going to the same big companies. If they’re going to be funding the big companies doing the big five or six grains, I hope they will also be helping the small farms in America, and I will say small/middle-size farms. They are suffering. They are really suffering. Under this program, Farmers to Families, they don’t really help small farmers. For the amount of money that America put on the table to sponsor that program, it seems more like an approach of buying votes than really helping, quite frankly.

What the government cannot be doing is subsidizing products that are proven to be putting Americans in harm’s way. This is not the business of the federal government. If some company can get rich selling sugar and people buy it, good for them. But let’s make sure it is done without support of the federal government, without subsidies from the federal government.

The need for a national director of food and nutrition

I do believe that America, and actually every other country around the world, needs a national director of food and nutrition. The position would be created the same way the director for national intelligence was created after the Sept. 11 attacks. It would bring together the massive resources of the federal government, by making different departments work together, where right now it is not happening. Food deserts can end if the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture can work closer together. I know some people in past positions, they would say, “José, you don’t know what you’re talking about. They’ve worked together before.” Well, we need things not to work on paper. We need things to work with boots on the ground. We need the Department of Education and the USDA to work together. How is it possible today we have school kitchens where you cannot even boil water? How is this possible?

The possibility of working, in some capacity, in the Biden administration

If you get a phone call from the high office one day to help, everybody would say yes. But in my particular case, it’s not like I have university degrees and things like that. I feel most comfortable when I’m on the streets at 2 or 3 a.m., serving the cities.

You know me. I get bored very quickly. I like to do a lot of things at once and touch a lot of things at once. I’m very happy to be the wind behind the sails of a ship. Those men and women who are in public service, they care, and they are experts on their own, obviously. What I’m only learning is that those men and women, they are so humble and so respectful of taking the ideas of others because they understand they’re here to serve.

The best wall that America can build is a wall of knowledge, a wall of production. If the countries surrounding America are doing well, are feeding themselves, America doesn’t have to build a wall. That’s why I keep saying longer tables are the way. The best safety net that America can build is know-how: how not only America, but every country, can feed itself.

The criticism that World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit Andrés founded, should not spend its resources on the National Guard, which the government should feed

It’s very simple to be in your chair, at your keyboard and start writing about whatever you don’t like about the world. What I’m going to tell people is this: Leave your chair, leave your keyboard and your Twitter account and go out to improve what you don’t like in the world. We’ve fed National Guard troops before, because sometimes in the middle of chaos, the systems don’t work perfectly.

So what is wrong with giving those young men and women, many of them who come from rural America and not many of them with high paying jobs. … So what is wrong to give them a hot soup when people want to be nice? What is wrong with being nice? I’m sorry, I’ve been in the military. I’ve been in the Navy. Nothing made me happier than when some of my friends brought me a hot bowl of soup. I’m going to keep doing this for the rest of my life, if it’s necessary.

The Biden administration proposing to eliminate the tipped minimum wage and instituting a single minimum wage of $15 an hour

I do believe that we need to have a tipping policy on minimum wage nationally. But this cannot be done by county or by state. It has to happen at the very top. When we were against Initiative 77 [the measure that would have eliminated the tipped minimum wage in Washington, D.C., over time], all my employees didn’t want 77. Seventy-seven was raising the minimum wage in the front of the house to the same level as the back of the house without addressing, really, the tipping. All of a sudden, the waiters are going to make all the money and, on top of that, take the tips home, creating a bigger hole between back and front of the house.

Biden’s proposal, if paired with the ability to share tips with the back of the house, is a move in the right direction. Again, it’s going to be a learning curve, until we have the perfect policy. But we need to work it and test it and then we need to be open to changes until the perfect system happens. We already support the initiative that they are trying to pass in New York to eliminate the tipped minimum wage. The difference between New York and Initiative 77 is that in New York, whatever tip that customers leave, the owner of the restaurant has the possibility to share that extra income with other employees.


As vaccinations increase, you may want to dine indoors again. Here’s what to consider.

Not for the first time in this pandemic, the ground is shifting. This time, the news is good: After a slow start, more and more people are getting vaccinated against the coronavirus. And many restaurants around the country are reopening dining rooms, bringing back business to a hard-hit industry.

That might be worth a toast at your favorite neighborhood hangout — but these glad tidings also come with a heaping side of uncertainty.

Vaccine rollouts are happening at varying paces, meaning families and friend groups won’t all have their shots at the same time. Restaurant regulations still vary widely by jurisdiction, and a few places have pretty much lifted restrictions, which some have interpreted as permission to party like it’s 2019.

Who can dine together? Can I eat indoors again? Should I? Those are just some of the questions diners are considering as they think about booking a table during this in-between time, when millions of Americans are getting vaccinated daily but before we’ve reached herd immunity.

The answers aren’t always clear-cut.

“There’s no such thing as zero risk, and nothing is 100 percent risky,” says Leana Wen, a visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health and contributing columnist at The Washington Post. “It’s a spectrum.” She has long urged people to think about their risks as expenditures from a “coronavirus budget,” and says the budgets of those who have been vaccinated just went way up. “You still have to think about how to spend it, and if your priority is seeing grandchildren and going to church, then maybe you’re not going to restaurants all that often.”

With encouraging headlines, springlike temperatures and our collective covid fatigue at an all-time high, it might be tempting to throw caution — and another round of takeout — to the wind. But experts agree that now is not the time to lower your guard, but instead to maintain your vigilance so we can return to something like normal by the fall.

For most people, who aren’t vaccinated, restaurants can still pose risks. A study released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that counties allowing in-person dining at restaurants saw a subsequent rise in cases and deaths. That followed an earlier CDC finding that people who were infected in July were more likely to have dined at a restaurant.

We spoke to public health experts, scientists and industry representatives about dining in this new, partially vaccinated world.

Whom can you dine with?

The CDC’s guidelines for vaccinated people, two weeks past their final shot, applies only to private settings. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said guidance for public places is coming soon, although the agency doesn’t have a firm release date yet. In its initial advice, the CDC focused on what vaccinated people could safely do in their homes, and urged them to continue taking precautions including masking and distancing in public settings.

The agency is cautious about issuing dining guidelines because of too many unknowns, said Greta Massetti, co-leader of the CDC’s Community Inventions and Critical Populations Task Force. “First of all, if you go to a restaurant, you will not know the vaccination status of any of the other patrons or any of the people who work there,” she says. "And likewise, the restaurants themselves won’t know whether people are vaccinated who walk through their doors.”

To figure out whom you can break bread with in public, first check to see how many people are legally allowed to be seated as a party where you live. But numbers aren’t the only factor to consider. Wen notes that eating in a group means you can’t observe the usual protocols.


8 things you should never do when eating at a fancy restaurant

Eating out at a fancy restaurant is just as much about the experience as it is about the food. Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth or regularly splurge on Michelin-starred fare, you may be a bit clueless about how to act, what to order, or even how to score a reservation.

We got fine dining tips for beginners from chef Timothy Hollingsworth (chef/owner of Otium in Los Angeles, former chef de cuisine at Thomas Keller's French Laundry), master sommelier Sur Lucero (vice president of Wine Access), and dining etiquette expert Julia Esteve-Boyd.

Here are 8 mistakes to avoid.

Giving up when you can't get a reservation

Services like OpenTable are not the only way to get a reservation at a coveted dining spot. Sometimes it's better to try the old-fashioned way: calling. " Usually restaurants do not put up all of their availability online, so calling usually pays off," chef Timothy Hollingsworth told INSIDER.

Not dressing for the occasion

Etiquette expert Julia Esteve-Boyd reminds you to never wear jeans to a fancy restaurant, and check the dress code in advance. There are certain unspoken rules on how to dress and act at a fancy restaurant.

Forgetting basic table manners

Esteve-Boyd says to never exclaim "Garcon!" or "waiter" to get your server's attention, to never ask for ketchup or mustard, and to always wait until all guests have arrived to order a drink. For the ladies: do not place your handbag on the table.

Further, Esteve-Boyd reminds us of a few fine dining table manners that may not be as obvious, such as the proper use for a napkin (blotting discretely, not wiping), breaking bread instead of cutting it or biting into it, and not drinking with your pinkie out (which can actually be seen as a rude gesture in certain cultures). To tell a server you are finished with your food, use the "silent service code:" napkin placed to the left of your plate, silverware arranged in a 4 o'clock position on your plate.

Feeling like you have to order wine

The wine list (especially with its wide range of prices), can be daunting. But master sommelier Sur Lucero reminds us that you can save money by bringing your own bottle at most restaurants:

"Most fine dining restaurants charge a nominal corkage fee, typically $35 per bottle, to bring your own wine," he said. "For that, they will chill or decant as necessary and serve the wine in beautiful glassware. Bringing a $65 bottle of wine will cost you the same $100 that tends to be the median at most elevated establishments — but you’ll enjoy a far better bottle for the price."

Not speaking up about food allergies

Communicate with your server about dietary restrictions before you order, or even when you make the reservation.

"Most places are able to accommodate you if they have a little bit of notice," chef Hollingsworth said. "That way, you can really get the most out of your meal, and not have to skip on great dishes you would otherwise pass over."

Similarly, you should notify your server if you're on a time constraint as well.

Ordering your favorite food

It might be tempting to order a familiar dish on the menu, but try to resist. "When at a fine dining restaurant, ordering outside of your comfort zone should be your go-to move," chef Hollingsworth said. "Sometimes, certain ingredients can look daunting, but generally most dishes are based on classic flavor pairings. It's an opportunity to experience something you couldn't make it home, and may give you ideas on how to amp up your own recipes."

In other words, try the grilled octopus instead of the chicken parm: You may surprise yourself.

Only ordering the restaurant's signature dishes

You may have read in a few reviews that the restaurant you're going to is particularly known for certain dishes, but don't be afraid to march to the beat of your own drum. "Many fine dining restaurants change their menus regularly, so if you are only ordering the dishes that you've seen written up, you may be missing out on the most inventive, freshest seasonal dishes that really shine," chef Hollingsworth said.

Being afraid to ask questions and not trusting your sommelier/server

Not sure what or how to order food or drinks? Your server is there to guide you.

"Diners shouldn’t be afraid to establish some monetary and consumption guidelines so that the restaurant can best guide their recommendation," Sur Lucero said. "Rookie diners should let them know how adventurous they want to be, so that they can then relax and dine into the night!"


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