The statewide shutdown on all indoor dining and private events is devastating to the hospitality industry, which has been teetering on the brink of financial disaster since mid-March. Unlike the mitigation orders in March, this round of shutdowns — which went into effect Saturday — lacks financial support from the federal government, leaving hundreds of businesses and thousands of employees without a safety net. This lack of action is proportional to the level of vitriol, outrage, and frustration expressed by business owners who may feel they have no other choice but to go it on their own, and even defy the statewide orders by continuing to offer indoor dining.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s order will have a considerable impact. Hopefully, one of them will be to lower case counts. As more residents stay home due to unemployment, they face the threat of rising cases and the added stress of putting food on the table for their families and keeping a roof over their heads. As the second-largest economy statewide, the 26,500 eating and drinking establishments provide 580,000 jobs making up 10% of statewide employment, per a report conducted by my organization, the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, and the National Restaurant Association.
This crucial industry is hurting badly. In the latest economic impact study by the National Restaurant Association, which surveyed restaurant operators Nov. 17-30, 89% of Pennsylvania restaurant and bar operators say their staffing is lower than average, and 65% expect their staffing levels to decline over the next three months. In this same survey, 45% of Pennsylvania operators say it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now without any financial assistance from the federal government. The governor cannot ignore these orders’ impact, and Congress needs to act now to pass real relief.
The hospitality industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries for health and safety standards. The PRLA supports reasonable, researched, and commonsense efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. The vast majority of restaurant and bar owners have not only complied with mandates but have invested in additional safety equipment, including plastic-glass partitions between booths and tables, upgraded ventilation systems, and devised inventive outdoor dining options beyond simple heaters. The industry continues to comply, adapt, and serve as a source of normalcy and hope within our communities.
The Wolf administration justified its latest order by citing studies conducted by researchers at Yale University and collaboratively at Stanford and Northwestern Universities that linked restaurants with new COVID infections. The PRLA, along with our partners at the National Restaurant Association, has previously pointed out flaws in recommending shutdowns based on such studies, which created mathematical models to project COVID infections and deaths. Such models collapse important differences among different restaurants’ mitigation attempts.
While the industry’s resilience cannot be underestimated, the economic realities point to a bleak future for the thousands of hospitality workers. While our representatives in Washington may still have their jobs and can rely on a regular paycheck, thousands of their constituents are about to be unemployed. Now is the time to demand action from the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, and for Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey to stand up on behalf of the industry that serves in each community across the commonwealth.
John Longstreet is the president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.