Foodservice groups condemn US dining restrictions
U.S. foodservice organizations protested new restrictions on indoor restaurant dining being implemented in several states and cities due to soaring coronavirus cases across the country.
The U.S. reported more than 166,000 new COVID-19 cases on 17 November, and related hospitalizations rose to a record 73,014.
As a result, numerous states and cities have issued mandatory shutdowns of indoor dining or have restricted hours for restaurants and bars.
Michigan ordered a three-week partial shutdown that prohibits dine-in service at restaurants and bars and is also limiting indoor and outdoor social gatherings, Bloomberg reported. Washington Governor Jay Inslee also said that indoor dining will not be allowed in the state through 14 December, and the capacity for grocery stores and retailers has been cut to 25 percent, according to Bloomberg. Most of California’s larger counties are closing indoor dining as well as some other businesses, The New York Times reported.
However, there is no scientific evidence linking restaurants to the increase in COVID-19 cases, the National Restaurant Association said in a 17 November letter to the National Governors Association.
“There is an unfounded impression that restaurants are part of the problem, and we are suffering as a result of inconsistent, restrictive mandates,” NRA President and CEO Tom Bené wrote in the letter. “Data tying systemic community outbreaks of COVID-19 to restaurants has yet to emerge, but we are too commonly labeled as ‘super-spreaders’ and have become a convenient scapegoat for reflexive shutdowns.”
Many restaurants are operating under NRA’s COVID-19 Safe Operating Guidance and following the guidelines of local public health agencies and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the association noted.
In addition to basing restaurant closures on science and data, restaurant operations should be treated the same as other retail establishments, NRA wrote.
“Shutting down indoor dining should be considered a last option,” it said. “If a shutdown is mandated, restaurants should be recognized as essential businesses and remain open for off-premises sales as well as outdoor dining.”
Mark S. Allen, president and CEO of the International Foodservice Distributors Association, also criticized the most recent round of closures.
“Another round of restaurant closures and restrictions are devastating to the industry that was just beginning to rebound. Also, while the pandemic continues, the winter months – which will greatly impact outdoor dining – are likely to hurt worse than any in recent memory,” Allen said in a press release.
IFDA is also disheartened that a second stimulus package is stalled, "considering how vital this relief is to our economy and businesses, especially the foodservice industry,” Allen said.
“It appears that little effort is being made to protect and assist these small businesses just as they would otherwise be making much-needed income at the end of the year,” he said.
As the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic stretches into winter, more foodservice-related business are beginning to feel the long-term economic impact. Fifty percent of businesses, including restaurants and bars, in Brooklyn, New York, could not pay their full rent in November, an increase from previous months, according to the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
“The mandated closure of businesses in South Brooklyn was nearly fatal, and another wholesale shutdown in the future could bring total collapse,” Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Peers in a press release. “Small businesses urgently need another federal stimulus package and ‘recovery leases’ proposed at the state level, which relieve crushing rent bills and address past-due payments.”
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce