Restaurant and bar owners across the country have felt the devastating effects of the pandemic and, with seven states reinstating indoor dining shutdowns, they are desperate for ways to survive.
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As of Dec. 1, at least 17% of all eating and drinking places – that’s more than 110,000 establishments – have completely closed and are not open for business in any capacity, according to the National Restaurant Association.
“For nearly nine months, restaurants, our nation’s second-largest private-sector employer, have been in an economic free fall as a result of mandated closures and capacity limits due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association. “The restaurant industry was the first shutdown in the spring and will be the last to fully recover.”
Restaurant operators have never faced a challenge or disruption like this pandemic, according to Kennedy, but they are “a scrappy bunch who are dedicated to their American dream and the opportunities it brings to their communities.”
Erin Bellard owns E’s Bar restaurant in New York City. She was mandated by New York state to be closed from mid-March to mid-June, have only takeout from mid-June to July, only have outdoor dining from July through October and finally in October was able to have indoor dining at a 25% occupancy. She is unable to reach her maximum gross sales as a business due to the restrictions, and had to lay off 10 of her 15 full-time employees. Of the five employees working for her now, four are working only part time.
“Even with every seat taken and the tables turned over to new guests every 90 minutes, we lose money being open,” Bellard said. “The hospitality industry runs on small profit margins in normal times, and we need to maximum guests through the door in order to make everything work.”
With indoor dining restrictions being reimplemented as COVID-19 cases surge throughout the country, restaurants now have even fewer diners coming through the door. Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington have prohibited indoor dining statewide, and some states have implemented regional or county limits, such as California and Colorado.
New York may soon be joining this list. Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned New York City could lose indoor dining in days if the city’s hospitalization rate doesn’t stabilize.
“Cuomo said that 70% of recent cases come from "living room" spread, not restaurants,” Bellard said. “And the NYC Department of Health has zero data demonstrating that increased infection rates are a result of restaurants.”
Kennedy echoed the sentiment that there is an unfounded impression that restaurants are part of the problem.
“Tens of thousands of additional restaurant bankruptcies and millions of lost jobs are now more likely, while the science remains inconclusive on whether any health benefits will accrue,” said Kennedy, who still remains optimistic a recovery can happen as jobs come back.
Bellard noted that Manhattan continues to have a “lower positivity rate (2.5%) than counties like Albany (5.1%), Westchester (6.0%), Suffolk (6.1%) and Nassau (4.9%).”
“And the plan is to close the city's indoor dining while keeping those in these other counties open? It is hard to understand the reasoning and it would be great to have more detailed information from the state on how they have come to these decisions,” Bellard said.
Based on the information available to her as a restaurant owner, she does not support the restrictions and is concerned for the state of her business.
Larvita McFarquhar the owner of Havens Garden, a Minnesota restaurant, has a similar story.
“Like everyone else, when they first started talking about COVID we were all praying, listening and learning about this virus,” McFarquhar said. “We learned at the end of March that Gov. Tim Waltz was going to shut down nonessential business, as he called us, for an unknown amount of time. As I watched him trample daily on our God-given rights and the Constitution, my daughters and I could not just sit quietly.”
McFarquhar’s experience throughout the pandemic has been a “roller coaster.”
“I have been involved in several protests, threatened with jail time for up to a year, fines of up to $25,000 for each occurrence, harassed, had my license taken away,” she said. “But, in all of this, I have learned to stand on the word of God and the Constitution.”
She said that opening back up is essential for the survival of her business.