Until this week, Minnesota’s restaurants had been shuttered since mid-March to all but curbside and delivery service. The toll taken by the prolonged shutdown has grown steadily, evidenced in the growing number of restaurants folding.
We recognize the ongoing danger presented by a virus that has stomped a path of destruction around the globe. COVID-19 has shown itself a formidable force, stealing lives and health from so many. But it became increasingly clear that there are actions we can take to mitigate risk, and we must find a way to coexist with the virus, which still has no proven treatment or vaccine.
Minnesotans should welcome, with caution, the Friday announcement from Gov. Tim Walz that the state is moving to the next stage in still-limited reopening of restaurants, indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters, fitness clubs and pools, as well as outdoor entertainment of up to 250 people. To understand why those moves are necessary even with the virus still in the community, it helps to talk to those in the hospitality industry.
Liz Rammer, president of Hospitality of Minnesota, which includes more than 2,000 restaurant-members, ticked off a checklist of reasons why the June 1 return of outdoor dining wasn’t enough. “Not everyone has a patio,” she said. Setting up in a parking lot or on a sidewalk can require costly investments: tables, chairs, umbrellas, tents in the event of bad weather — even portable bathrooms, she noted.
Weather is fickle in Minnesota, particularly in the summer. In a sudden storm, Rammer said, where would customers take shelter? Would the restaurant have to reimburse them for ruined meals? “It’s very, very difficult,” she said. “It’s not a model you can actually make money on.”
Without further loosening, Rammer had said before Walz made the Friday announcement, “we’re looking at an economic collapse of this industry by July 1. We can’t go another month like this.”
Walz has had many difficult decisions to make in guiding the state through this pandemic. The Star Tribune Editorial Board has largely supported those decisions as necessary to protect life and health, while also acknowledging the painful economic toll on the state.
But since the pandemic’s start, businesses of all kinds have developed protocols for social distancing, protective gear and hygiene. Many have been able to reopen, serving customers inside their establishments. Restaurants and other small businesses needed a similar opportunity. Yes, there is greater risk in that patrons cannot wear masks while eating. No, restaurants won’t be able to open anywhere near full capacity for a while. Many would-be customers will hang back. Some restaurateurs will, too.
Beginning June 10, Walz said Friday, restaurants and salons will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity, and fitness centers will be able to operate at 25% with no more than 250 people at one time.
Restaurants and the hospitality industry provide one in every 10 jobs in this state. They are more than just places to eat and stay. From roadside diners to swanky downtown eateries, they contribute to the fabric of the culture.
Just as much as malls, casinos, retail stores and other businesses that have been allowed to partly reopen, restaurants needed a better chance of survival. Now it’s up to Minnesotans to support them, while also following guidelines that can make the next stage of reopening successful for businesses and public health.