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NRA Suggests Expanded Outdoor Dining As Winter Approaches

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The National Restaurant Association or NRA, shot out a letter to the U.S. Conference of Mayors suggesting that expanded outdoor dining is the need of the hour for the restaurant industry to sustain the winter. The NRA also warned that thousands of restaurants without this facility could close down very soon.

The letter urges local leaders to do everything in their power to assist restaurants in offering outdoor dining for as long as possible this winter.

The NRA is looking for an extension of expanded outdoor dining allowances, continued streamlined permitting processes, promotion of outdoor dining efforts by operators in their localities, and funding for outdoor dining infrastructure as some localities did last year.

The letter stated that an NRA study indicated that restaurants are up against a bleak winter, due to the continuing impact of the delta variant, the lack of the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) replenishment, and the changing weather. Outdoor dining provided a lifeline for restaurants this summer.

The NRA said a number of restaurants benefited from the RRF, but they ran out of money very soon. Approximately two thirds of applicants also did not receive any funding and 177,000 restaurants are now in danger of closing down. Further, the Congress is yet to replenish the RRF, leaving a $43.6 billion funding gap.

The outlook for the restaurant industry currently remains dire as the delta variant caused a majority of consumers to change their restaurant use, including 20% who have chosen to sit outside instead of inside, the NRA added. Restaurants currently rely on outdoor dining to stay open, despite the upcoming winter chill.

"Expanded outdoor dining cannot replace robust consumer demand for indoor dining or Congress taking action to replenish the RRF, yet it is critically needed to help the industry sustain the winter," said Mike Whatley, vice president for State Affairs and Grassroots Advocacy.

During last year's winter period, many restaurants were able to invest in equipment to expand and winterize their outdoor dining areas, despite supply chain issues.

According to the NRA study, the delta variant slowed indoor dining at 78 percent of restaurants in recent weeks, while outdoor dining is 20 percent or more of daily sales at 68 percent of fullservice restaurants.

The study also showed that 61 percent of fullservice restaurants can only use their outdoor space through October, while only 30 percent of fullservice restaurants plan to utilize outdoor seating the entire winter.

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