Maryland’s restaurants can resume indoor dining at 50 percent capacity starting tonight at 5 p.m. and the state’s restauranteurs are ready to hit the ground running, according to the president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland.
Gov. Larry Hogan said at a news conference on Wednesday evening that the state’s fight against the coronavirus has progressed to a point at which additional Stage 2 re-openings can take place. In addition to lifting restrictions on indoor dining, Hogan said that on Friday evening outdoor activities such as graduation ceremonies and the use of amusement parks can resume-provided recommended safety protocols are followed. Montgomery County and Prince’s George County have yet to begin Stage 2 re-openings. Officials in those jurisdictions have said they will proceed with Stage 2 re-openings next week.
“Restaurants are absolutely ready,” Marshall Weston told MarylandReporter.com in a phone interview on Friday. “They have learned from other states that have already reopened. They have guidelines from the CDC, from the National Restaurant Association, and our association. And restaurants and their employees deal with cleaning and sanitation every single day of the year. So they understand what it takes to keep people safe and they’re ready to do so.”
“I do expect that on this opening weekend, so to speak-that there will be a strong desire for many people to get out and patronize restaurants. After that, we will see how it sustains. But I do expect there are a lot of people that feel that they’ve been kept inside for too long…or their favorite place did not have outdoor seating-so they’ll be looking to see who is open this weekend and who is ready to go.”
Weston said indoor dining is crucial in order for restaurants to survive.
“Restaurants were desperate to reopen for indoor dining. It has been a very long three months. Our industry has been severely impacted by the shutdowns. Although some places were able to do carryout and delivery-it really wasn’t anywhere near enough to keep a restaurant afloat. Many of the restaurants that did remain open continued to lose money even though they were open for carryout and delivery. And they did so just to keep some employees on the payroll and to be a part of their community. So, they were really desperate to reopen for indoor dining and they’re eager to welcome their dining customers back.”
Representatives of Maryland’s business community said they are largely optimistic about the resumption of indoor dining. However, some noted that significant challenges lie ahead for restaurants.
“Restauranteurs are excited and happy to see the dining restrictions continually lifted. Outdoor dining was good to get customers and traffic but what is needed is volume,” Howard County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leonardo McClarty said. “Indoor dining allows for more patrons and allows them to bring back more workers. I think many patrons may still opt for outdoors but for those that simply want to visit their favorite eatery that may not have outdoor capabilities, this is good for business and customers.”
Many dining establishments have been waiting for this day.
“All of the restaurateurs I’ve spoken with are enthusiastic about the restoration of interior dining, but they feel like it’s just one piece of the puzzle,” Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon said. “In order to generate the positive revenue they need right now, they’re depending on reaching all customers, including those folks who still have some concerns about the virus.”
However, not all counties will be able to open, said Maryland Retailers Association President Cailey Tolle. “Unfortunately, there still exists a confusing patchwork with some counties on a different timeline. Many restaurants and retailers went under because of how long they had to wait to reopen-we had supported them reopening sooner.”
National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) state chair Mike O’Halloran said his organization has been trying to push the administration to give more advanced notice of COVID re-openings.
“In this case, less than 48 hours is not a lot of lead time to-number 1-prepare your restaurant…number 2-staff up. And number three — make sure that the local jurisdiction allows them to open up as well.”
O’Halloran also addressed Hogan’s Wednesday announcement that indoor recreational establishments such as gyms and dance studios can reopen on June 19 at 5 p.m. O’Halloran said the good news comes too late for many of those businesses as well as others.
“To be honest, yes, it will be too little too late for some of these. Not just gyms-but unfortunately it’s already been too little too late for so many other businesses. But for the gyms and the martial arts and fitness studios-regardless-it’s welcome news. They now can now reopen. They were given a lot of lead time which is certainly beneficial to them.”