Gov. Tom Wolf’s inconsistency on protocols for restaurants and bars amid COVID-19 frustratingly continued this week. Business owners, who see the weather slowly starting to turn colder in a shift that will limit outdoor dining, are justifiably frustrated.
This week, the Wolf administration relaxed some rules on restaurants but added a “catch” that many establishments may not be able to overcome. Beginning Sept. 21, if a restaurant is able to self-certify plans, it will be permitted to operate at 50 percent capacity. Part of the new mitigation however is an arbitrary cutoff of alcohol sales at 10 p.m.
Every time someone turns around, there is a new rule to follow and it can be difficult to keep up. Additionally, state officials aren’t saying what data decisions are based on and instead can add another layer of confusion.
Overall, Pennsylvania has done better than most states mitigating COVID-19. Additional significant, long-term and consistent waves have not hit the state.
The administration said the alcohol cutoff is designed to limit late-night gatherings of college students. But this broad-brush approach may prove to be another serious blow to shops that have struggled with changing guidance since the state began a phased-in reopening in May.
According to industry experts, nearly two-thirds of revenue from bars and restaurants comes from alcohol.
Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association said the 10 p.m. cutoff is a “catch that will kill many establishments. Cutting off alcohol sales at 10 p.m. for a business that only operates 10-14 hours a day is going to be a significant hit for those. Many only open in the late afternoon for dinner and run until 2 a.m. Even those that open for lunch and stay open until 2 a.m. are going to feel this pinch.”
The pinch has already been significant. Moran’s group reported that 30 percent of establishments in Pennsylvania have not reopened, which costs an average of 13 jobs per facility.
“While our aggressive and appropriate mitigation efforts have kept case counts low, we must continue to take important steps to protect public health and safety as we head into the fall. At the same time, we must also support the retail food services industry that has struggled throughout this pandemic,” Wolf said.
One way to support them would be to trust them. Trust the people that make their livelihoods in this capacity to understand what needs to be done and how to do it in order to maintain a safe environment for their workers and patrons.
Continue to police the facilities with state employees conducting reviews to assure guidance is being followed. If not, issue fines or even temporarily shut a facility down.
But many owners are already doing what they can to stay in business, with different layouts for diners inside and expanding outside seating options. These owners know these places the best. Put faith in them to do the right thing because for many operations, opening at 25 or even 50 percent capacity isn’t worth the cost.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.