Watching the full-service restaurant Industry reel under the pressures of the Covid Pandemic is heartbreaking. Anyone who has spent time as a worker in “the industry” knows how devastating closed doors are to workers and their employers.  These businesses are the heart of our communities and employ millions of people all across the country. 

Collectively, the service industry is the largest private employer in the United States. And of those millions of workers, a vast majority of them, women. The National Restaurant Association finds that more than half of restaurants in the United States have women as full owners or co-owners, with 45% of restaurant managers being women, 52% of all restaurant workers being women, and 71% of servers being women. The restaurant industry has always been where women from any background could advance their careers and provide for their families. And women are speaking out against the lockdowns because they know what is at stake. We understand that this work is about feeding the public and feeding our own families. 

In the past month, progressive leaders across the country have called for some of the most severe lockdown measures citing the number of Covid cases. The lockdowns mostly focus on the restaurant industry, with governors claiming that eating at a restaurant has now become too big a risk. However, these same leaders have not done a risk assessment that would allow the industry to navigate those risks in order to survive. 

Lockdown mandates don’t make sense for many of us who know this industry. We know that dining in a restaurant is far safer than a trip to the grocery store. Efforts to apply safety measures like plexiglass barriers, limited capacity, safe distance seating, and strict cleaning schedules have been made. Sitting with your family in a controlled environment should be as safe as the 2 hour trip to a big box store or grocery. Restaurants have always been some of the most monitored of all places by the health department. We understand how to comply with safety measures. It’s part of our culture. So it is confusing to see bans on indoor and outdoor dining with carve-outs for other industries while no assessment has been done regarding dining at a restaurant.

By now, many have seen the viral video of Angela Mardsen, Owner of Pineapple Grill and Saloon in Los Angeles, showing the hypocrisy of the outdoor dining ban. Her outdoor patio was considered unsafe under the lockdown mandate, yet a television production crew had permits to set up their outdoor dining area in the same parking lot. Mardsen, in tears, pleads with local leaders to let her open up her business. “How can our leadership shut our businesses before the holidays with no solutions,” she said in an interview with Fox News. She asks the city to complete a “risk assessment” to determine just how safe it is to dine.

Many business owners across the country are calling on their mayors and governors for the same thing. In Washington State, Governor Inslee has banned all indoor dining in lockstep with other progressive leaders. When asked for the data supporting his position, the most offered was a broad brushstroke that conflicted with the states’ hospitality association findings. As the owners of restaurants and other small businesses get angry and speak out, the Governor warns of pricey fines for those who won’t comply.

Back in California, the California Restaurant Association sued to stop the outdoor dining ban. L.A. County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant then asked health officials to provide the risk assessment that was previously required in Governor Newsom’s State Reopening Blueprint. “You have to do a risk-benefit analysis for public health. You don’t just talk about the risk of spreading disease. You have to talk about the benefit of keeping restaurants open,” Chalfant said.

What are restaurant owners supposed to do as they comply with city mandates, losing their livelihoods, and laying off their staffs? Restaurant associations, owners, and workers in every state should be demanding risk assessments and specific data that lay out the groundwork for reopening.  The solution is to support the industry by finding ways to be open and safe, not just let it crumble in the name of safety.