Across the country, restaurants have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Boston is no exception. In June 2020, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association projected that up to 1 in 4 restaurants may not make it through the pandemic.
In every neighborhood of Boston, beloved local restaurants and bars have been forced to close their doors. Restaurant workers have lost their jobs en masse, forcing them to get by on unemployment checks that have been turned into a political football in Washington.
Boston’s restaurants ground us in the city’s rich cultural diversity and international identity, and are a key part of why people choose to live in the City. They are the site of our first date with our future partner, the places we gather with friends and family to celebrate milestones, and where co-workers become lifelong friends. The restaurant industry is also the nation’s second largest private employer, creating low-barrier employment opportunities and driving economic activity in our neighborhoods. Boston must do more to support restaurants through the remainder of the pandemic, and to accelerate a rapid recovery of our restaurant industry as soon as the pandemic is over.
Rebuilding our restaurant industry also provides Boston with an opportunity to break down barriers that have made it far too difficult for independent operators, people of color, women, and immigrants to open their own restaurants in the past. Andrea envisions a Boston where equity is a core value and our hospitality industry reflects the rich diversity of our communities.
To recover in 2021, Andrea will push for the City of Boston to immediately take the following actions:
- Forgive liquor license fees for 2022. Even though Boston’s restaurants and bars have operated at significantly reduced capacity for more than a year, restaurants were forced to pay their 2021 liquor licensing fees to the City – adding an additional financial burden to their bottom line at the worst possible time. As Mayor, Andrea would implement a one-year moratorium on licensing fees for all City restaurants – a measure that other cities in Massachusetts and states across the country have taken for 2021.
Ensure restaurant workers are protected. As restrictions on dining continue to lift, restaurant workers must be able to work safely. Andrea believes restaurant workers should not only have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, but also to the adequate PPE they need to work in public day in and day out.
- Cap third party delivery fees at 15%. Delivery service apps like GrubHub and UberEats charge restaurants as much as 30% on each takeout transaction. The Massachusetts Legislature has passed a bill to cap delivery fees at 15%, and the bill is on Governor Baker’s desk. Andrea will push for this to be implemented immediately to alleviate pressure on restaurants.
- Help restaurants fight food insecurity. The pandemic has doubled the rate of food insecurity in Massachusetts. At the same time that one-in-four restaurants are closing, one-in-four Black and Latinx families are now struggling to regularly access food, an unconscionable disconnect in a city that cares about equity. As mayor, Andrea will use her platform to fight for the passage of the federal FEED Act, which allows the federal government to pay 100 percent of the cost to cities and states so that they can partner with restaurants and nonprofits to prepare nutritious meals for vulnerable populations, such as seniors and underserved children. Andrea will work to harness the power of Boston’s philanthropic community to fund programs like Commonwealth Kitchen, which helps restaurants keep their employees working while feeding families in need.
Boston can be a national model for supporting locally owned, diverse restaurant operators. During the pandemic, the City has proven that it can be nimble by establishing outdoor dining spaces, closing streets to cars and opening them to people, centralizing applications for outdoor dining permits, and supporting operators with technical assistance and expedited service. Under Andrea’s leadership, that’s how the City will do business all the time – especially since it has proven it can.
As Mayor, Andrea will:
Make City Hall Restaurant Friendly
- Establish a Hospitality Division in City Hall. Opening a new restaurant in the City can be borderline impossible for an independent operator, especially someone doing it for the first time. Currently, operators are required to get permits and inspections from a number of separate departments, all of which have different application and inspection processes. By aligning relevant positions in City departments under one centralized division, Andrea will reduce red tape, create a one-stop-shop to efficiently and effectively guide restaurant owners, and holistically support food entrepreneurship across the city.
- Convene a Hospitality Advisory Council. Andrea knows that hospitality professionals understand the needs of the restaurant industry best. As Mayor, she will create a 15-member Advisory Council to advise on hospitality industry policy recommendations. This Council will have designated representatives from each facet of the industry, not just owners and operators but also workers, and represent a diversity of businesses by business type and neighborhood.
Use City Planning To Build More Connected Communities
- Double-down on the success of street patios. One of the few bright spots of the pandemic was the City’s decision to open up street patios for outdoor dining during the warmer months. As Mayor, Andrea will make these changes permanent and create incentives and partnerships for restaurants to be able to invest more strategically in these growth opportunities.
- Expand Open Streets across the City. Boston has twenty main streets districts, and Andrea envisions them serving as destinations — not throughways. Andrea will invest in street projects that serve to connect our neighborhoods, prioritize communal gatherings, build social connectivity and cohesion, and increase economic activity in partnership with independent restaurants, small retail, and diverse operators. Andrea will build on the success of Open Newbury Street (a pilot program that closed Newbury Street to cars for three Sundays) in other neighborhoods such as Hanover Street in the North End, Harvard Ave in Allston and in communities of color. She will expand pilot programs that open streets to people, support our local restaurants and nightlife, and create placemaking events like the Mattapan Jazz Festival, Porchfest, and more.
- Partner with developers, landlords, and operators to increase small business access to ground floor retail. Andrea will partner with local developers, landlords, and operators to create more accessible and affordable commercial real estate for restaurants to occupy. Andrea believes that this intentional approach to mixed use development can increase foot traffic, support retail and restaurants, and increase jobs and economic activity.
Make Boston’s Restaurant Industry More Equitable and Inclusive
- Build a pipeline of hospitality leaders through BPS vocational education programs and leading local nonprofits. Andrea will prioritize partnerships between vocational schools and restaurants to create career pathways for young Bostonians. She will also increase connectivity with non-profits leading this work. Robust internship and externship programs and systematic programming will provide important workforce training for a pipeline of skilled industry professionals, connect Boston Public School students with the restaurant and food service industry, and create long-term career pathways for Boston’s youth.
- Use the City’s contracting to support local, diverse food vendors. City Hall and the Boston Public Schools can use the power of the purse to support a more diverse array of independent operators in Boston. Contracting with local providers for the City and the District’s food service needs with intentionality will increase volume for both restaurants and local farmers, and provide healthier food options for employees and guests, improving and increasing access to nutrition.
- Reform the liquor licensing process. Perhaps the greatest barrier to equity in the hospitality industry is Boston’s antiquated system of liquor licensing, which makes it next to impossible for an independent restaurant operator to get a liquor license without an up-front, six-figure investment. This is a significantly outdated system where just a handful of Boston’s 1,100 liquor licenses are Black-owned — and in Andrea’s home neighborhood of Mattapan, there is not a single liquor-serving restaurant. As Mayor, Andrea will convene stakeholders to explore a number of solutions to modernize Boston’s inequitable licensing system, tackle this persistent challenge head-on and partner with the State to execute a plan that encourages entrepreneurship in Boston. These leaders will include a diverse range of restaurant owners and operators, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, and other key partners from the City and State. Andrea will lead a constructive debate on considerations ranging from best practices from other municipalities in the Commonwealth and beyond and equitable license fee structures (including by neighborhood) to market dynamics such as the overall supply of licenses available, pricing distortions caused by the pandemic, and how to create a more level playing field to achieve her vision for a more equitable restaurant industry.