The more than 100 members of the Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association are prepared “to be part of phase one of the process to reopen the economy.”
That’s according to a letter sent by the association Sunday to Gov. Ralph Northam, a missive that also commended the state’s chief executive for his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
In the letter, WARA said they are prepared for phase one by using guidance and regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Restaurant Association. This means practicing efforts such as social distancing.
Read the full letter here.
Michael Claar, WARA president, said the purpose of the letter was to make sure the association’s voice was heard and to get the message across that restaurants should be part of the state’s first phase of reopening.
Northam announced Friday that Virginia can begin a phased reopening, once it meets certain criteria, the first of which would involve some businesses opening with strict restrictions.
Northam outlined key benchmarks Virginians can expect in the first phase, which will begin no sooner than two weeks from now to allow for a 14-day downward trend in confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
That includes continued social distancing, teleworking, limits on travel and public gatherings, and recommended use of face coverings. Any easing of restrictions will be informed by public health experts, members of the governor’s COVID-19 Business Task Force, state and local officials, and other stakeholders.
The state is developing two sets of guidance: one with broad based recommendations for all businesses, and another with industry specific recommendations for public-facing businesses like restaurants and non-essential retail.
The guidance will be provided to businesses in early May.
“We’re not advocating for any kind of rush,” Claar said. “Obviously we’re all dealing with hardships, not just businesses but individuals, [and] these restrictions and closures are for the greater good but we respect and appreciate that.”
The letter comes a little more than a week after the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association also sent a letter to Northam asking he re-open the state’s restaurant industry in a three-tiered approach that would begin on May 8.
However on Thursday Debbi Schafer, executive director, said WARA was still in the process of establishing guidelines for its members to care for the local community.
“Our statement last Thursday was not meant to indicate we were taking a wait and see approach, but that we were taking our time to consider exactly what was being requested and the ramifications for our members and the Williamsburg community,” Claar wrote in an email.
Claar said the association had planned to make a statement and send a letter, but the organization just wasn’t quite ready to do so last week. He said he wanted to ensure he had gathered all the correct information and resources before making a commitment to what the organization would say.
“Before we sent a letter to the governor not only asking him to reopen but telling him we were ready to reopen, we wanted to take a closer look at what that would mean,” he said. “[We wanted to address] what we know so far of how things will be handled differently and really take time to absorb the information.”
Claar added that gave the organization time to devise new guidelines that would help restaurants operate once they are able to reopen.
In new guidelines to members sent Sunday, the association asked restaurants to employ certain protocols to ensure the safety of guests and employees. This includes re-training employees on procedure when they feel ill, using technology to reduce person-to-person interaction, and employing ServSafe certified managers and staff.
ServSafe is a safety training certificate program administered by the U.S. National Restaurant Association.
“A lot of these promises we’re making to the community, they’re not new,” he said. “Our industry already has a great commitment to safety and health…so most of these policies are highlighting what we do on a daily basis.”
But even with the new guidelines, the association is still considering how the local restaurant industry will be changed once the pandemic passes.
“No one expects that we’re going to go back to business as usual anywhere near day one of reopening,” Claar said. “There will be some drastic changes, but in terms of providing a safe and healthy place to enjoy a meal, that’s not new.”
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