Hospitality Hit Hard by Wavering Policies
Updated: Jul 17, 2020
So the summer heat of Southern California did not bring the Covid-19 relief we were all hoping for – in fact we have seen the worst two-week period since the pandemic first hit in March (LA Times). While many were hoping to enjoy rooftop bars and summer outdoor dining by now, many have been skeptical of the rushed reopenings from the beginning. State, City, and local governments – along with public pressure – have played a crucial role in the opening-and-closing limbo the hospitality industry currently finds itself in.
Servers sporting PPE, photo courtesy of Mel Melcon via LA Times
The one-size-fits-all approach by Governor Gavin Newsom led to Los Angeles County restaurants, bars, stores, and gyms reopening perhaps much earlier than they should have. There was little support for these businesses to begin with – especially with Trump’s failed business relief package that ensured places like Shake Shack received millions while mom & pop shops were left in the lurch. Many operated on a take-out only model when dining rooms were closed, but that could only last for so long. Restaurant owners were desperate to reopen and bring in more income as well as more jobs for servers, etc. So they reopened starting with outdoor seating and transitioning to limited indoor dining. Restaurant owners were glad to have their regular customers back, but many feared this phased reopening was disastrous.
– And it was disastrous.
One restaurateur, John Terzian of h. wood Group, spoke to LA Weekly about his frustrations as a business owner right now. He expressed his grievances about the lack of regulations once restaurants were allowed to reopen, and the lack of accountability. Restaurants and bars were allowed to open under the CDC and state guidelines that outlined requirements such as socially distanced seating, PPE for servers, and proper cleaning between diners. Terzian agreed that the lack of consistency in regulations for business owners led to confusion and possibly the spike in cases.
h. wood Group's Summer hot-spot SHOREbar, photo courtesy of h. wood Group.
A survey published in LAist at the end of June showed that 83% of open food establishments are in violation of those guidelines. With diners not wearing face masks for eating and drinking purposes, it becomes even more crucial that servers wear theirs. The decision to close restaurants again because of this has felt incredibly frustrating for people like Terzian whose employees have been following the rules.
What’s even more shocking is how Terzian found out he wouldn’t be able to reopen just days before they were set to. There was no communication beforehand– he found out on the news like the rest of us. Sure, it might be fair to say that government officials couldn’t communicate with every single business owner beforehand, but Terzian is responsible for some of LA’s most popular restaurants and celebrity hot spots, and there was no attempt to notify business owners prior to public announcement. He said they even “put [him] on some sort of fake task force to shut [him] up. They didn’t follow up or answer any of [their] emails or calls” (Terzian, via LA Weekly). The complete lack of communication has made it increasingly impossible for business owners to plan and coordinate reopenings and prioritize the safety and livelihoods of their workers and customers.
This back and forth is only the latest hit the hospitality industry has taken since March. And as the cases continue to rise, hospitality continues to suffer. Let’s talk about the numbers. According to CNBC, the leisure and hospitality industry has lost 7.7 million jobs. That is about 47% of the total positions. Around 5.5 million chefs, waiters, and cashiers lost their jobs at restaurants around the country. Back in April the LA Times ran an article about LA’s “hottest free-agent”, Gloria Leon from Nate ’n Al’s, since she was out of a job after the restaurant had to permanently close due to Covid. Not just server jobs are at risk, according to Bar & Restaurant restaurants have lost $120 billion in sales. Along with the loss of jobs and money, there have been many permanent closures. According to Yelp, 143,000 businesses have shut down. Around 35% of those are believed to be shut down permanently. One of those is cult-favorite Swingers Diner in Beverly Grove. The iconic LA late night diner succumbed to the economic effects of Covid, and was forced to shut their doors permanently.
photo courtesy of Michael Juliano via TimeOut
Hope lingered for a few weeks that we were easing back into our “regular” nightlife routines, only to be quickly knocked back. John Terzian discussed the true cost of the openings and closings, including the emotional toll of firing workers a second time around and wasting food that was ready for reopenings. There are more than just economic risks to this inconsistency and lack of communication from Newsom and Garcetti – these are people's livelihoods, many unsure if they can refile for unemployment after getting their jobs back and then losing them again. The uncertainty is mentally taxing on the workers and business owners. With the current lockdown set for only three weeks, owners are unsure if they should even be prepping for that date or bet on it being extended further.
There’s no expectation that governors and mayors should have all the answers to managing an unprecedented global pandemic– but owners like Terzian are hoping for more open lines of communication between policy makers and business owners leading to less job and revenue loss. Opening a restaurant already poses risks without the threats of global pandemics, gross mismanagement, and lack of clear leadership. Moving forward, we’re hoping to see more accountability for restaurant owners and workers following guidelines, and clearer policy to protect not only our health, but our jobs and businesses.