Many people continue to avoid restaurants as the pandemic continues. And the restaurant industry in Texas is reeling from the economic hit. The Texas Restaurant Association estimates that 11,000 Texas restaurants have closed since last March when the first coronavirus stay-at-home orders went into effect.
Now, restaurant leaders are welcoming Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement last week that businesses will be allowed to open to 100% capacity starting Wednesday. Mask-wearing will no longer be mandated by the state.
Emily Williams Knight is president and CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association. She told Texas Standard that when the first closure orders went into effect, only 37% of restaurants were prepared to provide takeout service.
“Over the last nine months, we’ve had ups and downs. The [COVID-19] case count’s gone up; the case count’s gone down,” Knight said. “And so consumer confidence is tied to that.”
Many restaurants couldn’t weather the economic storm, she says, because they’re independent operations without access to capital.
Knight says the creation of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund – created as part of the latest federal COVID-19 relief bill – along with the increased availability of vaccines, should provide much-needed help to restaurants that want to return to business. The federal restaurant fund provides $28.6 billion, nationwide.
“We are seeing, just in the past two weeks, a bit of an upturn in dining that correlates directly with the upturn in vaccines,” Knight said.
Even with capacity limits lifted, Knight says many restaurants may not be able to return to normal operations because they don’t have the needed staff.
“Getting people back and engaged in the brands, and working again – that has been a huge priority since the governor’s announcement last week,” she said.
Knight says employee safety has been a priority for her group’s members. A survey of restaurant association members indicates that 74% of restaurant staff around the state will continue wearing masks, even after the mandate ends this week.
“A lot of restaurants are going to be asking – just like ‘No shirts, no shoes, no service’ – we want to see masks on guests as they’re walking to a table,” Knight said.
Knight says that customers who don’t want to wear masks should continue to use takeout or delivery service, rather than dining in.