I commend Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his team on all the steps they have taken with the safety and health of local citizens in mind. We in the restaurant and hospitality industry recognize the difficult decisions that must be made to balance public health while preserving our local economy.
However, the mayor’s latest order to once again shut down restaurants is without merit and will permanently damage the industry and the local community.
The initial restaurant shutdown at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was devastating. Many people were furloughed or laid off permanently; some restaurants were unable to keep their doors open. Others made do with limited staff, offering takeout and delivery and surviving with the help of charitable donations and/or relief grants from the SOBEWFF® & FIU Chaplin School Hospitality Relief Fund. Through it all, the industry remained resilient and supportive of protecting fellow residents.
Once allowed to reopen, responsible restaurant operators spent a great deal of money on resources to comply with safety regulations and restrictions that allowed them to open their doors and safely serve customers. This latest shutdown order, which unfairly singles out restaurants, while other businesses such as gyms can remain open, is unreasonable and without scientific basis. Sending restaurant employees back into a broken unemployment system will be even more devastating this time around. We believe we can be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
Why can someone exercise inside a gym, while social distancing and wearing a mask, but a restaurant patron cannot eat a meal inside with those same restrictions? Vigorous exercising with hard, rapid breathing in moist, warm confined spaces is scientifically proven to increase the risk of person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus. What scientific evidence points to restaurants having a greater risk than that?
Gyms also have the ability to offer their fitness services virtually — like many did to survive (and some thrive) during the original shutdown. This is not an option for restaurants. In addition, outdoor dining isn’t feasible for many restaurants, and challenging even for those with space in the midst of the South Florida summer heat, humidity and rain.
This second shutdown will put the final nail in the coffin for Miami-Dade’s restaurant community, which is a significant economic engine of our celebrated hospitality and tourism industry. I urge the mayor to reconsider this order and give restaurants the same courtesy as other businesses that are allowed to remain open — as long as they follow CDC guidelines.
Lee Brian Schrager is senior vice president of communications & corporate social responsibility for Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. He is founder and director of the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One.