Masked Cook - © 2020 The Straits Times

COVID-19 Economics: A World Without Restaurants?

I had to think more than once this morning when I came across a full-page colour ad in my daily paper posing the reader stark challenge: ‘Picture life without restaurants’. I couldn’t. So I went on to the small print and as I read I realized the ad was based on a false premise…

Social Drinking - © myfitnesspal.comBar and Restaurant patrons who shirk their responsibility to socially
distance and wear masks can spread COVID-19 far and wide.

The ad, placed by Restaurants Canada (RC), ‘Representing 40,000 restaurants across Canada’. takes the form of an open letter to ‘all levels of government’ to set aside more money specifically for COVID-19 emergency support to “stop system-wide restaurant closures.” Most restaurants across the land are operating under heavy constraints involving reduced, if completely closed, seating capacity, strict contact-controls between staff and customers, and increased costs and time-consuming procedures for elevated sanitation and food safety precautions that were briefly lifted a bit as new case numbers appeared to be declining.

An unequal burden

That’s resulted in an unequal burden for small, local chains or one-off eateries compared to big chain brands with hundreds of outlets and strong head-office corporate level support. Now, with the reintroduction of Phase 2 anti-COVID restrictions, the industry as a whole claims it’s being ‘singled out’ unfairly for re-tightened operating restrictions.

“As we undergo a second wave, our industry is being singled out. and we deserve to understand why. Accurate transmission data that clearly points to restaurants being the source has not been provided.”

That’s not entirely true. Contact tracking has proven that new hot spots have been declared and new outbreaks detected after tracing new-case patients’ contacts back to large, out-of-control events at bars and restaurants.

Huge investment at risk

RC wants governments (and the public) to know that Canadian, “Restaurants have invested over $750 million in training, sanitizer stations, PPE, air -purification systems and other protective equipment.” And boasts that, “87 percent of Canadians agree that restaurants are doing a great job of keeping consumers safe.”

Independent surveys and inspections show that most restaurants are keeping their part of the bargain (see photo, top of page).

But, in spite of the industry’s compliance with new regulations, RC complains that it’s members are still being ‘shut down’, estimating that, without more government support (read: bail-out money), “half of all local restaurants are at risk of closing within a year.” And that means closing permanently.

The final pin in the voodoo doll…

The letter ends with the note that more than 188,000 jobs have already been lost because of COVID-19 lock down precautions, and that number could rise by another 100,000.

But the blame lies elsewhere

Blame for restos being ‘shut down’ again after restrictions were cautiously eased (however briefly) last monthlies in one place and one place only: the laps of resto patrons who blatantly ignored official recommendations – and in some cases legally-mandated guidelines – on what could and should be done to keep the pandemic from charging back.

As I said earlier, there’s a clear link between the careless, arrogant, selfish behaviour of some restaurant patrons who rushed out to the bars and restos and beaches like race horses out of the starting gate the moment restrictions were lifted, even a little bit. Thousands and thousands of people failed to wear masks or observe social distancing rules and – presto! – another wave of COVID-19 cases dragging their sorry behinds into hospitals across the land.

So, why are the restos blaming the government?

It’s easy. They sure as hell don’t want to shame their customers – as guilty as the customers may be – for the resurgence of the pandemic. They clearly fear that customers will turn their backs on businesses that paint them – the patrons – as responsible for the resetting of restrictions and the (probable) resulting closure of all those additional restaurants.

The resto people look around, and the only other available target for their ire is ‘all levels of government’. Moreover, the restos are literally telling governments that they, the elected bodies, have to what they (the resto association) says needs to be done. I’m truly sorry, but the resto people have not done a great job – or any job at all – of reminding customers they they have to do their part to help small, local restaurants survive. and that’s been their responsibility all along the bumpy pandemic road.

My take

Bottom line: Common sense, common courtesy, cooperation, a sense of community and common decency have all gone with the virus-droplet-bearing wind. I don’t expect things to change materially any time soon, but I really do think that RA is handling the situation really poorly. The key at this point is for governments, restaurateurs and customers to stand together and work together to survive the pandemic.

~ Maggie J.