Restaurant Association of Maryland president Marshall Weston called on state officials to allow restaurants to increase their indoor dining capacity from 50% to 75% in order to prevent what many fear could be a significant drop in patronage once winter arrives.
“What the state can do at this point is knowing that our COVID numbers continue to be trending down- and we have been very consistent in our trend downward-we would like to see an increase in indoor capacity to 75 percent. We believe that that will significantly help restaurants,” Weston told MarylandReporter.com in a phone interview on Tuesday.
Weston added: “And, knowing that this has been going on for six months-we feel that everyone firmly understands what they need to do to keep themselves safe. And just as retail stores are able to accommodate larger numbers of people safely-we feel that restaurants can do so as well.”
Weston said increased indoor dining capacity is essential to the survival of restaurants.
“Unless indoor capacities are increased sometime soon, it’s going to put a significant financial strain on restaurants. Because, as we learned early on, carry-out alone does not ensure that restaurants are going to be able to survive.”
Weston noted that Maryland’s restaurant industry generates more than $750 million in sales tax revenue each year. Weston said that when the restaurant industry thrives other small businesses are also likely to thrive.
“When restaurants do well that will trickle down to the state’s economy. And ultimately we also know that when people dine out regularly it does influence and impact other businesses-specifically retail. Those businesses will be affected as well. We just really know that restaurants are the backbone of every community from a community standpoint and from a financial standpoint. And when people don’t dine out regularly all businesses are impacted, including the state.”
Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon relayed that elected officials in his area are considering “taking some additional steps to extend outdoor dining into the Fall season.”
Nevertheless, Weldon went on to say that increased indoor dining capacity is crucial for restaurants-regardless of what season it is.
“Given the tight profit margins of all these businesses, moving to 75% of capacity may not just be important to offset the weather, it may be necessary to save many of these restaurants altogether.”
Maryland entered the final stage of the state’s recovery plan on September 4. It allowed for all remaining shuttered businesses to reopen. Restaurants were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining on May 29 and for indoor dining on June 12. They were ordered closed in March. Reopening guidelines mandate that tables are at least six feet apart and that all restaurant staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Patrons are required to wear face coverings until they are seated at a table.
There are 117,245 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Tuesday morning, according to the state’s Department of Health, and 3,706 people in Maryland have died from the virus. The state’s positivity rate is at 3.62%, which is better than that of most states in the country. Maryland has tested more than 1.3 million people for COVID-19.
A recent survey by the National Restaurant Association found that nearly 17% of U.S. restaurants-about 100,000-have closed due to the pandemic.