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The COVID-19 lockdowns have crippled the restaurant industry to such a degree that Waffle House CEO Walt Ehmer is sounding the alarm.
Speaking with Stuart Varney on Fox Business, Ehmer lamented that the lockdowns are taking away people’s livelihoods, threatening to create a dark Christmas.
“Our people have been decimated by these restrictions,” Ehmer said. “And when you look at the states where people are not allowed to work, we’re taking away people’s livelihood, we’re taking away their hope for a future, especially this time of the year, people can’t consider buying their kids Christmas presents.”
“It’s devastating to the people and the people can’t wait until spring,” he added.
As Thanksgiving approached, state and local governments throughout the country began issuing new lockdown restrictions, specifically targetting the restaurant industry through bans on indoor dining.
“Our folks, other people in the restaurant industry and other industries, they just want to work,” Ehmer said. “They want to work safely.”
“We’ve proven we can work safely and we want government leaders to pay attention to the fact that not every one of these situations is the same and a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t work,” he added.
Ehmer argued that his restaurants have been particularly sensitive to COVID concerns by not being open 24 hours a day and voluntarily shutting down “dining rooms at night because we recognize in some circumstances the alcohol does play a role in terms of people socializing a little too much and crowds gathering.”
Prior to Thanksgiving, Los Angeles County announced that it would be shutting down all in-person dining at restaurants, bars, breweries, and wineries for at least another three weeks.
“The county had previously warned that if the five-day average number of cases reached 4,000 or more, or if hospitalizations surpassed 1,750 per day, all outdoor and indoor dining would be prohibited,” reported LAist
Karen Ross, co-owner of The Tallyrand in Burbank, said the three-week ban (which may indeed last longer) will devastate her business.
“It’s debilitating to us. Our hours will be reduced. We will offer only takeout, which will take us from doing about 65% of our usual pre-COVID sales back to 30%. It’s awful, any way you look at it,” Ross said.
“I am just completely exasperated by it because I really don’t believe, as do many other restaurant owners that I’ve talked to, that outdoor dining… we’re the source of that. It’s debilitating. I’ve got a crew of probably 24 people that I’ve got to let go or they’d have to take a furlough… I hope it’s only three weeks,” she added.
In March, the National Restaurant Association predicted that 11% of restaurants could be closing permanently. Hudson Riehle, the Association’s senior vice president of research, said the data shows the industry is in “uncharted territory.”
“Association research found that 54% of operators made the switch to all off-premises services; 44% have had to temporarily close down. This is uncharted territory,” said Riehle. “The industry has never experienced anything like this before.”