FILE - Illinois, restaurants, Virus Outbreak Illinois

People sit outside a restaurant in a heated tent in Glenview, Ill., Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker announced Friday that limited indoor service will be allowed for regions of the state that see their COVID-19 metrics improve enough to move down to the state's Tier 1 mitigation level. 

(The Center Square) – With restaurants in Illinois and the rest of the country trying to survive during the pandemic, the National Restaurant Association has some suggestions for lawmakers on recovery efforts.

The group sent their "Blueprint for State and Local Restaurant Recovery" to the National Governors Association, the National Council of State Legislators, and the United States Conference of Mayors, encouraging their members to act on the proposals.

Mike Whatley, National Restaurant Association vice president for state affairs and grassroots advocacy, said he has never experienced such a difficult time for the industry.

One hundred and ten thousand restaurants have closed either permanently or long-term, and the industry has lost over $240 billion dollars since the pandemic began,” said Whatley. “Those numbers are staggering.”

Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, agrees and said it has been a brutal year.

We estimate 20% of the restaurants, or roughly 5,000 establishments in Illinois will close permanently,” said Toia.

The blueprint includes 11 detailed steps lawmakers can take, including establishing grants to save restaurants, providing property tax relief, making alcohol to-go a permanent option, and enacting pandemic liability protections.

Whatley also believes if a state forced the closure of eateries because of mitigation efforts, the business should receive a rebate on state licenses.

Restaurants that have liquor licenses that ultimately couldn't use those liquor licenses because they were closed, shouldn’t be charged the full fee for the year because if you can’t use a license, you shouldn’t be charged for it,” said Whatley.

Capacity limits for indoor dining is making things difficult for restaurants around the state. Currently, all regions of Illinois are under Phase 4 mitigations, which limits private gatherings to no more than 50 people.

State and local legislative leaders around the country have successfully utilized many of these policy proposals to help restaurants in their communities,” said Whatley. “We encourage all legislative leaders to work with the association and our 52 state restaurant partners on solutions that enable restaurants to survive this crisis and thrive afterwards.”

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.