As the economic uncertainty facing restaurants due to the coronavirus continues to drag on, one area restaurant association is waiting to see what happens while another penned a letter, urging the governor to allow for the opening of dine-in services before May 8.
On April 15, Gov. Ralph Northam announced the closure of non-essential businesses would be extended an additional two weeks, to May 8. This impacts a variety of different businesses, from hair salons to bowling alleys.
Although open, restaurants are operating on a delivery, pickup only basis — their dine-in services are closed.
Shortly after that extension was announced, the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association sent a letter to Northam asking to open dine-in services before May 8.
The Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association has opted to wait and see what happens.
“Governor Northam has left himself the flexibility to begin an incremental derestriction of Virginia and Williamsburg Area Restaurant Association members will be prepared to return to service in the safest possible way when that time comes,” Debi Schaefer, executive director, wrote in an email. “WARA is in the process of establishing guidelines for our members who are eager to care for the community that has supported us through a disastrous period for our industry.”
Restaurants in the Historic Triangle will continue to see the impact of a depleted tourism season.
Many restaurants in the Williamsburg area have had to either go to a curbside and delivery service or close altogether. But even if they are offering curbside service, they aren’t making nearly what they were prior to the pandemic.
For example, local restaurant Cochon on 2nd was only earning a third of its regular revenue in March even with curbside and delivery options, said Neil Griggs, chef and owner.
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But the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association is taking action with a proposed three-tiered approach to reopening. First, restaurants would open on May 8 at 50 percent capacity, followed by 75 percent capacity on May 23 and then operate at 100 percent capacity on June 6.
During that time the restaurants would adhere to limiting groups to 10 people or less and maintain a six-foot distance during operations.
Stacy Shiflet, executive director of the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association, said the organization’s board decided on on those dates based on Northam’s Executive Order 53, which temporarily closed restaurant dining. She said the purpose of the plan is to get employees back on the clock and maintain payroll numbers.
But she said even if this were implemented, it’s difficult to know if customers will actually come to restaurants.
For example, Mother’s Day on May 10 is the biggest day for the restaurant industry, she said, but many of the businesses are going to operate at a loss.
“I think it’s the comfort of the guests that would come to the restaurants,” she said. “It would be their comfort level, but restaurants already operate under strict health guidelines so it’s a very regulated industry.”
As the area prepares for a barren tourist season, Shiflet said restaurants have to find some solutions. The biggest concern is seeing beach areas in states such as South Carolina and Georgia start to open, which will drive tourists away from the Virginia Beach area.
“They’re going to be looking at marketing those customers, the travelers that would normally come to Virginia Beach,” she said.
There’s no way to predict the pandemic’s long term impacts on the restaurant industry.
“It’s a really hard question because so much is unknown,” Shiflet said. “And we’re just trying to figure out how to survive.”