On Monday afternoon a crowd, masked and socially-distanced, gathered outside of the U.S. Capitol to advocate for more funding for local, independent restaurants across DC.
The demonstration, called “Plate Action” is a visual representation of those who have lost or fear losing their job due to the fallout from the pandemic and the inaction of Congress to save independent bars and restaurants by passing the Restaurants Act.
That legislation would create a new $120 billion grant program to provide structured relief to restaurants through 2020, providing funds to make up the difference between projected revenues for 2020 and earnings in 2019.
The District has eased restrictions on dining over the past several months, but last week DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that effective Monday, Dec. 14, all restaurants will be mandated to reduce maximum capacity from 50 percent to 25 percent occupancy. Bowser said the restaurant capacity will be reduced later to give owners ample time to “reduce their operations” as the pandemic continues.
Members of the community gathered with ceramic and paper plates bearing the names of food service workers. The plates were laid across the east lawn of the Capitol building as Congress was in session.
Mat Cabral attended the event and works with Bartenders Against Racism. He is a musician who says working in bars and restaurants has been his “way of life” giving him opportunities to travel and be on tour as a musician, but always have a job to come back to in DC. Cabral said he hopes participation in these types of events will help workers who are struggling.
“Seeing all of these bars and restaurants shut down and friends and colleagues lose work, I’m hoping that this does something, you know just showing up (today).”
Cabral also emphasized that those who are still in a job are struggling with business significantly down.
“We rely on tips and having only 25 percent of the capacity of what we usually do is really cutting into everything,” Cabral said.
Sean Alvez, director of operations for the Jamie Leeds Restaurant Group which operates several restaurants in the District and in northern Virginia, spoke about the challenges facing the industry during the pandemic period.
“We’ve been heavily involved in trying to help get the restaurants act passed and we’re here to help push it over the edge and hopefully get some things done,” Alvez said.
“If it gets passed now, it gives us a lifeline to get us through the winter, get us to the vaccine” Alvez said. “It keeps us alive, at least for the next four or five months until we can get back to normal.”
Jeremey Bola, an employee at Pizzeria Paradiso, echoed Alvez and expressed concern about the challenges facing the restaurant industry as the pandemic rages on.
“We’re just paying tribute to some of our employees who have lost their jobs due to everything that’s going on,” Bola said. “Just trying to raise some awareness.”
Bola said if Congress moved to pass the Restaurant Act, it would be a significant help.
“It will open up a lot of different avenues,” Bola said. “It will allow us to bring back some of our employees, it will allow us to expand some of our operations .”
Kate Debelack is a patron who came out to support restaurant workers and discussed the importance of these places during typical days.
“These are the places that we got to celebrate, these are the places we go to commiserate and these are the places that we go to be together when we can and they’re not going to be there in a few more months,” Debelack said.
Debelack emphasized the importance of supporting the hospitality community in the District.
“The hospitality industry in this town is an amazing community,” Debelack said. “They’re very supportive of each other and of their patrons. Everyone who works in the industry always makes me feel really welcome and (being here) is the least I can do.”
Sarah Payne is a History and Neuroscience student at The University of Michigan interning with HillRag. She writes for and serves as an assistant news editor for Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.