Why Tom Colicchio Is Still Pessimistic About The Future Of The Restaurant Industry

It's been over two years since the coronavirus pandemic reached the United States and the restaurant industry still has a grim outlook. At least, that's what "Top Chef" judge Tom Colicchio shared in an interview with the Daily Beast.

His pessimism is twofold. First, just when it looked like the industry could start recuperating, the Omicron variant flooded the country, placing more pressure on restaurants. Second, the way that the $28.6 billion the government awarded after lobbying by the Independent Restaurant Coalition appeared to be slapdash at best. Only a third of applicants ever saw any of that money. The problem is that such a small percentage creates an unfair level of competition. "If the guy down the street got a million bucks, they can offer more salary, they can renovate, they can do things," Colicchio explained. "Whereas if you didn't get the money, you're kind of screwed."

This is especially true when you see some of the restaurants that did receive aid. Per Nation's Restaurant News, these included the company that served the France pavilion in Disney World, the caterer of Apple, and franchises of Panera Bread, McDonald's, and Dunkin'. All of these received a $10 million Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant. While other businesses that one would think would receive restaurant aid did get money, the fact that companies associated with such massive corporations got such large grants means that the already highly competitive companies simply became more competitive than a smaller business.

Money is still badly needed

Tom Colicchio's dire predictions also have a basis in a follow-up report given by the Independent Restaurant Coalition. In January, Erika Polmar, the executive director of the group, described how "at this point, 80% of businesses that didn't get the RRF say they're in danger of permanently closing." This, she continued, translates to 141,000 restaurants. Part of the issue was that the $28.6 billion was severely under the $120 billion requested to keep businesses across the country afloat.

These issues were raised again by the Independent Restaurant Coalition after President Biden delivered the State of the Union (via ABC News). This included Tom Colicchio who argued that the fund needed replenishing because "it's almost a year later since [Biden declared future payments would come] and there are almost 20,000 restaurants in New York City alone that have applied for grants and still have not received a dime." Here, Colicchio has a personal understanding of what the industry faces. He has accrued outstanding debts that simply returning to business is not guaranteed to pay off. It's possible, then, that his New York presence will suffer like the rest of the underserved restaurant industry in favor of the businesses that got lucky enough to receive financial aid.