A new order closing bars and restaurants for several hours on Thanksgiving Eve – traditionally one of their biggest nights for sales – is one more hardship in a long series of hardships since the COVID-19 pandemic began, representatives of the service industry said Tuesday.
“It will have a significant impact, but one night ultimately won’t make or break a restaurant,” John Longstreet, president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, told LebTown. “What will make or break them is all of the cumulative restrictions that have been piling up … making it almost impossible for restaurants to operate.”
Gov. Tom Wolf ordered restaurants and bars in Pennsylvania to stop serving alcohol at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced the new measure on Monday, along with a a stay-at-home advisory for people over the holiday. Cocktails to go are still allowed under the order, and bars can resume service at 8 a.m. Thursday.
Traditionally, the evening before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest nights of the year for drinking establishments. Wolf said the measure is necessary to help prevent transmission of the virus over the holiday so Pennsylvanians can eventually get back to a situation where “we can go to bars anytime we want.”
Bars and restaurants already were limited to seating at 50 percent of capacity because of the pandemic but, officials warned, the situation is getting worse.
Pennsylvania reported 11,837 new confirmed cases on Sunday and Monday, according to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The state averages nearly 6,400 new cases a day, the Inquirer said.
Read More: Lebanon County daily COVID-19 tracker
Levine said Pennsylvania could run out of ICU beds within the week.
Owners of several local establishments, contacted Tuesday, declined to speak on the record on the matter.
As one bar owner said, “Thanks for asking, but I’d rather not speak up about it.”
Mark Arnold IV, owner of the Gin Mill Restaurant & Tavern at 324 E. Cumberland St., said Tuesday he acknowledges the problem but wishes the restrictions weren’t so strict.
“I understand the effort to mitigate the spread of the virus,” he said in an email to LebTown. “However, if restaurants are following the current mitigation efforts, alcohol should still accompany food service and not be a problem. Bars are already closed anyway. In this sense, I am not sure what the goal is here as black Friday is still a go.”
Arnold suggested the administration should focus more on businesses that are ignoring existing regulations instead of clamping down harder on those who are already toeing the line.
“The Gin Mill is doing our part on the front line to follow mitigation efforts,” he said. “I understand the precaution and understand the difficulties, but some efforts by state government should perhaps focus on businesses who are not following mitigation rather than restricting further those who do.
“The constant pivot and adapting to changes is exhausting, frustrating and inconsistent,” he added. “Compliance is costly in many ways but our restaurant staff has no choice but to put themselves at risk to support our families and to feed our customers.”
However, he remained somewhat philosophical, noting that the shutdown on Wednesday evening likely won’t have any more of an impact on the business than the last eight months have already had.
“It’s one more bad day in a long string of bad days!” he said.
Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, said in a statement that the announcement “really comes as no surprise to anyone in the tavern and restaurant industry.”
In fact, he said, the PLBTA has been preparing its members for such contingencies “until wide distribution of vaccines” becomes available, he said.
“We understand that the COVID case numbers are increasing, and once again, our industry understands that it is being asked to sacrifice in order to play a role in saving lives of Pennsylvanians,” Moran said in the statement. “With that bad news for the industry, the Governor did deliver some good news related to business liability for those enforcing mask rules. We are thankful for that liability protection.”
That said, Moran said he doesn’t understand why “there has been no significant financial help to assist our small business taverns and licensed restaurants survive. As this crisis continues, more small businesses are closing while their employees lose jobs. Help is needed now, not later. Many small businesses cannot sustain continued targeted mitigation without help from either the federal or state government.”
Longstreet agreed the Wednesday evening restriction makes things “difficult” for establishment owners.
“The reason it’s difficult is, a lot of people the night before Thanksgiving go out to dinner … and they expect to get wine or something to drink with dinner,” he said. “The 5 o’clock curfew … makes it almost impossible for people to go out to dinner. And that’s disappointing.”
Longstreet noted that a lot of restrictions have been in place since early in the pandemic response to keep people from congregating in large groups. “It seems like this order forgot that there are already protections in place,” he said.
“It’s trying to reduce the spread of the virus. We’re all in favor of that,” he added. “But liquor stores will still be open. So people who might have gone out to a restaurant or bar, where they would be in a safe environment with people with face masks and social distancing, will now go to the liquor store and invite people into their homes, where they might not take the same precautions. … The unintended consequences of this could backfire.”
Longstreet noted that a survey of restaurant owners in Pennsylvania showed that 63 percent expect to be out of business within six months if conditions don’t change. That compares to a nationwide survey, in which 38 percent expect to close down. Surveys also showed that restaurant owners in Pennsylvania have had to lay off more employees than their counterparts in other states.
“I think that the governor and the secretary have come to the realization that restaurants are not the problem. It’s private gatherings,” Longstreet said. As for the Wednesday curfew, he said, “I understand what they’re trying to do, but it doesn’t make sense with all of the other restrictions.”
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