Chamber News

April 20, 2020 Likes Comments

Here’s a way municipalities can help restaurants

If your family is like mine, ordering take out from a favorite local restaurant can be the highlight of any shelter-in-place day.

Allowing restaurants to offer takeout and delivery is even more important for our busy “essential” workers who may not have the time, or energy, to shop or cook for themselves or their families after, or during, a long workday.
Takeout and delivery also helps keep restaurants afloat and employees on the payroll (even though most operators say volume is way down and that the model is not sustainable).
One measure that would help would be to cap the high fees restaurants pay delivery services -- such as UberEats, GrubHub and DoorDash -- which significantly cut into a restaurant’s chance to turn a profit.
Even before the pandemic, third party delivery companies have been frustrating restaurant owners, notes the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. These companies charge up to 30 percent commission on orders. Additional processing fees and special promotions (where the discounts come exclusively out of the restaurant’s share) often take an additional cut, wiping out a restaurant’s entire margin, or worse.
That really stings at a time when the state’s restaurant industry has lost nearly $1 billion in sales and has laid off approximately 200,000 employees.
Still, many restaurant owners feel they have no choice but to work with these vendors.
“Many people will assume that we are closed or do not offer takeout if they don’t see us listed on these sites,” one Newton restaurateur said. “No matter how well we promote ourselves, sponsored ads will immediately pop up on Google from GrubHub, UberEats and DoorDash, so really we don’t stand a chance competing with their online marketing techniques.”
Municipalities across the county are stepping in. San Francisco recently imposed a cap of 15 percent on delivery fees. Similar ordinances have been filed across the country including in New York, Chicago and Providence. The Globe reported Friday that Boston and Cambridge are also looking at capping commissions.
But last week I asked Devra Bailin, Mayor Fuller’s director of economic development, if Newton would pursue a similar measure. She said Newton’s attorneys say such legislation is not permitted here.
I don’t understand why Boston and Cambridge might be able to do this, but Newton can’t. Neither does City Council President Susan Albright who told me over the weekend that she’s looking into this as well.
Another option would be for the state to impose a cap. I’ll be sure to ask State Senators Cindy Creem and Eric Lesser how they feel about the idea when they join us for a chamber webinar on Wednesday. Register for that event below.


Still waiting for Congress 

As of Sunday night, Congress and the White House were reportedly close to an agreement to pump billions into the SBA's depleted Paycheck Protection Program and disaster relief programs.
But while countless small businesses and nonprofits anxiously hope to have their applications approved in the next round, Bloomberg reports that multiple publicly traded companies have already received relief through these "small business" programs and that when it comes to distribution of the PPP funds "Not All States Are Created Equal."
However, if your business or nonprofit was fortunate enough to obtain PPP approval, you might want to read Newton resident Bruce Brumberg’s latest Forbes blog post: You Got Your Paycheck Protection Program Loan. Now What?
Not fair to workers and every other employer
Speaking of the gig economy, Commonwealth published a this noteworthy column yesterday calling for changes to the laws that exempt GrubHub, Uber and others from providing unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, minimum wage, and sick days.
Other employers are required to pay for and provide these benefits. So should these companies.
News for self-employed and 1099 workers
Meanwhile, those gig economy workers, self-employed and 1099 workers waiting for their chance to file an unemployment claims will find out this week what documents they need to prepare to file as part of the federal CARES act.

Rosalin Acosta, the state’s Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, told me Friday that more information should be published on their website this week.
Acosta previously announced that the online portal for these workers would be ready by April 30. Acosta said the portal development was ahead of schedule and may ready sooner.
And an unemployment reminder for employers
 Meanwhile, Acosta’s department is reminding employers to file those quarterly wage reports by the standard April 30 deadline. Employers severely impacted by COVID-19 who are not able to file and pay by April 30 may submit a written request by email for a 60-day extension on company letterhead, specifying how they’ve been impacted by COVID-19.
Introducing our new Shop Local portal
Over the weekend we introduced our new Shop Local portal. This new interactive shop local directory provides a continually updated list of local businesses offering gift cards, virtual programs, special offers and more.
The idea is to create a local directory where everyone sheltering in place can still shop local.
If you’re a local business owner in Newton, Needham, Watertown or Wellesley and would like to be added to this directory, just fill out this form. Thanks to the chamber’s Young Professionals Group for creating this concept.
Don’t forget these
Once again, we’re rolling out another week of chamber zoominars, including the previously mentioned conversation with State Senators Creem and Lesser on Wednesday.
Join us at 11 a.m. this morning for “Staying motivated while working from home” featuring helpful tools and tricks getting your workweek off to the right start.
And, while this is not a chamber program, at 10 a.m. today Boston Globe business reporter Jon Chesto will be the guest -- and take your questions -- on Globe zoom webinar. Register for that here.
Stay in touch. Just don’t touch.
Greg Reibman
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber


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