Leishman: Unfair restrictions will devastate Delaware restaurants
Delaware restaurants have led by example throughout the pandemic crisis, taking extraordinary steps to protect the health and safety of customers and employees. Restaurants across this state have risen to the challenges thrust upon them in 2020, providing a place for people to safely dine and quite frankly – feel human again. We aggressively advocate that restaurants will continue to offer this experience in a safer environment than other unregulated indoor places.
The recent surge of Covid-19 cases has prompted Gov. John Carney to make difficult decisions about ways to reduce transmission in the community, which include restricting restaurants back to a 30% occupancy while allowing for less occupancy restrictions at other regulated indoor public spaces like malls and big retail stores. Although we continue to support action to protect the health of all Delawareans, we believe there is an unfounded impression that restaurants are part of the problem. As a result, restaurants will severely suffer from these inconsistent and restrictive mandates not applied to other industries.
Further study shows that Delaware contact tracing data represents a statistically weak sampling including responses from only 23% of interviewed cases, and has not reported on visitation of common places such as retail, grocery, convenience, gas stations as well as the workplace. Questions about restaurant visits did not differentiate between outdoor, indoor or even drive through or carry out visits. In our opinion, this data lacks merit. Business sector restrictions and closures based on this type of contact tracing is dangerous. Restaurants have become the convenient and easy scapegoat for reflexive shutdowns while Covid-19 documented spread is accelerating from private indoor gatherings and house parties.
As our governor determines further action, we urge him to take these actions into consideration:
- Regulations and decisions regarding restaurant operations should be based on facts and complete contact tracing data and not hypothetical simulations of transmission.
- When restrictive regulations are imposed, such as capacity limitations or shutdowns, it should be clear what health metrics must be achieved to return to the previous level.
- Restaurant operations should be treated no differently as any other retail establishments. Restricting indoor dining and not monitoring holiday shopping crowds is both dangerous and unfair.
- Restaurants depend on communication and advance notice for any possible change in regulation.
The next few weeks and months will be challenging to our leaders and especially to the restaurant industry already struggling to stay afloat. Restaurants have lost almost $900 million dollars since March shutdowns began and shed thousands of hospitality workers. As a result of these restrictions and shutdowns, job losses have disproportionately affected the most vulnerable of our workforce, including women and minorities. Prior to the pandemic, restaurants employed almost 50,000 citizens or one in 10 Delawareans. In April, Delaware restaurants lost more employment than almost all other states nationwide.
Make no mistake – these unfair restrictions targeted directly at restaurants will almost certainly devastate our industry and force many small businesses to close their doors for good. The collateral damage will be laying hundreds and thousands of restaurant workers off right before the holidays with no safety net or security of enhanced federal unemployment. These vulnerable citizens have nowhere to turn.
Back in the spring under Phase 1 guidelines, restaurants reported that restricting capacity to just 30% would force up to 40% of Delaware restaurants to shut their doors within a year without a financial lifeline. Today’s announcement will surely accelerate the permanent closure of hundreds of restaurants. Restaurants who opened during Phase 1 brought back employees with funding from the federal Payroll Protection Program. With Congress unlikely to provide additional stimulus or relief funds in the near future, these new restrictions will result in another spike in unemployment and no mechanism to support those workers.
Delaware restaurants are responsible for $2.5 billion in economic activity within our state and are the cornerstones of every community – breathing life into big city neighborhoods and rural communities alike. Our future depends on restaurants and the opportunities they provide for so many in our state. These restrictions will result in layoffs without the support of supplemental unemployment benefits and massive financial support. It is no longer possible to pretend this will end soon, and restaurants cannot exist as we know it by sustaining the current landscape and its mammoth challenges.
Carrie Leishman is president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association, the state trade association dedicated to supporting, educating, and advocating for Delaware’s food service industry.