In Monday afternoon’s news conference, held by officials to announce new citywide restrictions to stem the spread of COVID-19, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley made a comment that “we can eat takeout” instead of dining at restaurants. While of course that is true, it is also insulting to the thousands of people who will lose their jobs and the dozens of business owners who will lose their livelihood due to the second wave of shutdowns.
Using evidence-based public health measures efficiently is the best way to stop the unchecked increase in virus spread. I don’t question the efficacy of a modified shutdown of restaurants, which can save lives and serve as a reminder to Philadelphians that it is time to go back to taking this virus as seriously as we did in March.
But is it possible the city could have sent this message in a more inclusive and less painful way? And have offered restaurateurs a meaningful seat at the table to determine how restrictions should go?
During this pandemic, restaurants have willingly followed the guidelines of public health officials and will continue to do so. Restaurant owners and workers are not experts on how viruses spread and are not going to second-guess those who are. I and my fellow restaurant owners are experts in public space and how to direct people’s behavior in that space.
I believe that if the city worked closely with restaurant owners, we could come up with safe and creative solutions to keep our businesses open and minimize the spread of the virus. Give us the chance to keep our employees working, serve our communities, and save our businesses by trying to come up with procedures and policies to limit the spread of the virus. Don’t shut us out by presenting your conclusions via PowerPoint rather than sitting down with us and working together to solve the serious and immediate threat caused by this virus.
I was so grateful for the outdoor business this summer. The streets were alive. Employees were back to work. Overdue rent and supplier bills were paid.
Still, in some ways, restaurant owners and our advocacy groups must bear some of the blame here. In the warm summer months, we forgot the hard-fought lessons learned in the fight to restore outdoor dining. We failed to demand proactive action from our city government. We failed to demand a seat at the table. To the restaurant workers who are now suffering the consequences of that failure, I offer my apology.
But it is our elected leaders who should be truly ashamed.
Restaurants are a key part of the city’s culture, and how thousands of residents make a living. By targeting restaurants in this shutdown, the city’s leaders are effectively harming the lives and livelihoods of thousands of workers and business owners.
The city has robbed restaurant owners of the opportunity to help inform and craft a solution that can keep people safe and save our businesses, which are part of what make the city a desirable place to live, work, and play. Our offers of assistance have been rejected. There is no “restaurant pandemic czar” in Philadelphia. There is no public working group of restaurant professionals to give advice on policy and assist on implementation. We in the industry are ready and able to help.
Avram Hornik is the owner of Morgan’s Pier, Harper’s Garden, Rosy’s Taco Bar, Crafthall, Parks on Tap, and other Philadelphia restaurants.