How to Help Houston Hospitality Employees Now – Updated

This article is made possible by Fish Company Taco at 1914 23rd Street in Galveston, proudly serving sustainable Gulf seafood. Currently, the company is feeding out-of-work hospitality members and other unemployed professionals for free — and you can help. Support this mission by purchasing an Industry Relief Gift Card in any amount from $5 to $499.99. Chef Daya says, “I can’t hug you, but I can feed you. Out-of-work hospitality staff get to eat free at FishCo. We will continue as long as we can. Just as with the government shutdown, if you want to help, call us at (409) 220-3245 or donate online and we will add your donation to the Industry Relief gift card.”

In 1838, German immigrant Henry Kessler opened one of Houston’s first bar/restaurants. Located just south of Market Square, on Travis between Preston and Prairie, it was called Round Tent Bar. Why? Because it was actually in a round tent with wood chips and sawdust tossed on the muddy dirt floor, a long wooden bar, and cheap booze imported from New Orleans. It and Kessler’s next-door general store (Kessler’s Arcade) were the site of early city council meetings and a community hub where social organizations met and bands played concerts.

From Houston’s beginnings, restaurants and bars have been an integral part of the Bayou City’s social fabric, adapting to whatever swampy mess this humid environment throws at them.

1877 ad for Houston’s Metropolitan Restaurant. Photo by David Leftwich.

From my research into the history of food in Houston, there has never been a time when there haven’t been restaurants and bars in this town. Through multiple yellow fever outbreaks that killed 100s when Houston’s population was just 1000s, through two World Wars, through the Great Depression, multiple hurricanes, floods and more, there have been restaurants and bars before, during and after those cataclysmic events.

Along with the farmers who make all of this possible, restaurants and bars were playing an important role in helping society survive. As we saw during recent disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, our restaurants and bars were key players in rescue and recovery, filling gaps left by more bureaucratic government institutions — institutions that now need to step up and help restaurant and bar employees and owners who were there when the city needed them.

History shows bars and restaurants will be around after this. People will always need food, drinks, and places to gather.

But that long view is cold comfort for those struggling through the current crisis. Right now 1000s of dishwashers, line cooks, chefs, wait staff, bussers, bartenders, barbacks, and others are getting paid a lot less or not getting paid at all. They are worried not only about getting COVID-19 but also about paying their rent or mortgage, paying their utilities, paying their car loan, taking care of their children now that the schools are closed, and, ironically, buying food.

Owners and operators are worried about the tough decisions they will have to make that will affect staff that are often like family. They are worried about paying employees, leases and loans, paying taxes and utilities, and much more.

As consumers, here are a few things we can do to help:

1) Many restaurants are offering takeout, delivery, and/or curbside pickup. Please take advantage of those opportunities. We at Houston Food Finder have put together a list of restaurants offering these options and are adding to it every day. If you don’t see one of your favorites, call or check their social media. You can also purchase gift certificates and any merchandise they offer for sale online. Many restaurants are even offering deals and gift card bonuses just to keep some cash coming in.

2) Donate to the Southern Smoke Foundation. This emergency relief fund is available to hospitality professionals, including farmers, who may be suffering financially during this crisis. If you know a hospitality professional who is struggling, encourage them to apply for funds on their website.

3) Many restaurants and bars have started fundraisers, raffles and other innovative ways to raise money for employees. For example, Berg Hospitality Group has launched a GoFundMe campaign for its employees. You can check your favorite establishments’ social media and websites to see if they are doing something similar. Added 3/20/2020.

4) Donate to Houston Shift Meal, which is teaming with companies and individuals to sponsor restaurants to provide meals to furloughed or out-of-work hospitality professionals. You can can read more about their efforts here. Added 3/20/2020.

5) If you have a favorite bartender at a Houston-area bar or restaurant, find them on this list (or just pick a couple at random or those that work at your favorite establishment) and send them a virtual tip.

6) Donate to the Local Impact Food & Entrepreneurship (LIFE) Fund, which is paying local restaurants to make meals for medical professionals and volunteers. Added 3/25/2020.

7) Donate to the United States Bartenders’ Guild’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. If you know a bartender who is struggling, encourage them to apply for an emergency grant.

8) Contact state, local, and federal officials and ask them support direct aid to employees and restaurants, as well as temporary relief for taxes, fees, utilities and leases. Bobby Heugel, who co-owns several Houston bars and restaurants, has created petitions and other resources that he’s sharing to his Facebook account. Also, see below for the Texas Restaurant Association’s Requests for Relief. (Note that the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts did not state tax and mixed beverage tax that was due March 20.  See our article for the explanation.) Other good resources for legislative action are the newly formed Independent Restaurant Coalition and Unite America’s Table. Updated 3/25/2020, 11:45 a.m.

9) During this crisis, mental health can be as important as physical health. To that end, The Lovett Center is offering a virtual online support group sessions for hospitality professionals. Check the event calendar for dates. Added 3/25/2020.

10) Sign these petitions: a) Cancel Texas Mixed Beverage Tax & Sales Tax During COVID-19 b) Save America’s Restaurants c) Unite America’s Table. Updated 3/25/2020, 11:45 a.m.

11) Encourage and help out-of-work employees apply for unemployment, now that the State of Texas has loosened some of its regulations: “TWC will be waiving work search requirements for all claimants and the waiting week for those claimants affected by COVID-19.”

For over 180 years, restaurants and bars have been an important part of this city and, if tradition holds true (and I think it will), they will still be after this crisis. However, some — especially small, independently owned businesses — may not survive without significant community and government support. This time of social distancing shows just how important these gathering places have been to us now and in the past, and if there’s one lesson to internalize before it is too late, it is, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

So, just as bars and restaurants fed us during Harvey, were there to help us celebrate the good times and comfort us during the bad, it’s our turn to comfort them and do what we can to help during these trying times.




Direct Aid to Restaurants and Employees:
– State/Federal grants to small businesses; ensure that such support is not limited to restaurants that have closed but to any that can easily demonstrate significant hardship.
– Tax credits with expedited processing for retaining employees during the COVID-19 crisis.
– Regulatory relief for restaurants regarding unemployment claims.

Taxes and Fees:
– Suspend meals taxes indefinitely or allow restaurants to keep meals tax revenue. If a government maintains a meals tax, money should be used to promote restaurant industry to residents within its taxing jurisdiction once the crisis is over.
– Delay sales tax remittance for restaurants, such as a 90 day extension for remittance.
– Suspend indefinitely business improvement and other hospitality fees/taxes.
– Suspend or defer property, estimated income, and franchise taxes (in effect providing a loan).
– Quickly refund overpayment of estimated taxes.

Payment Relief:
– Prohibit landlords from evicting restaurants for non-payment of rent during the COVID-19 crisis. Allow restaurants to pay back rent over a series of months after the crisis abates.
– Prohibit utilities from shutting off services to restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis due to lack of payment.
– Extend the window for restaurants to make payments on COVID-19 related expenditures.

Government Mandates:
– Suspend any government mandates set to come into effect in the next two months.

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