Many Marylanders are becoming more and more apprehensive about the prospect of millions of harmless little insects known as cicadas flooding the state in the coming weeks but the President and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland is not one of them.
In fact, Marshall Weston said Wednesday that he has not heard “any restaurant express any concern about the cicadas whatsoever.”
Weston said that because of that sentiment he is not aware of any restaurants having to take precautions to deal with the perceived threat before it arrives.
Below is an edited excerpt of an interview Weston did with MarylandReporter.com. In addition to the cicadas, Weston also discussed Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent decision to lift outdoor dining restrictions, the need to lift indoor dining restrictions, and employee retention problems within the industry.
Last weekend the governor’s order lifting statewide outdoor dining restrictions went into effect. How significant has that been for the restaurant industry?
Weston: It has been very significant for consumers. I think this is something that a lot of people have been waiting for. It gives people the sense that we are on the road to some type of normalcy. And with the weather changing people really want to be able to just let their hair down so-to-speak and just be outside and feel normal. From a restaurant-tourist perspective, this is certainly helpful and certainly something that helps us on the road to recovery.
Is the situation for restaurants such that there is an urgent need for indoor dining restrictions to either be relaxed or eliminated all together?
Weston: I think that that is the logical next step and there are many restaurants that are waiting for those restrictions to be lifted. Not everyone has outdoor dining capacity or space where people can congregate outdoors. And especially for restaurants with a smaller footprint that do not have a lot of seating-the six-foot restriction still certainly limits them as to how many people they can accommodate on a daily and weekly basis.
So I think that many restauranteurs are looking ahead and hoping that the governor lifts that restriction over the next couple of weeks-knowing that we have a lot of people in the state who have received their first doses of the vaccine. That means that logically their second doses will be coming soon. And we could get to a point where the half population is fully vaccinated in the next couple of weeks.
The cicadas are expected to be out in full force within the next couple of weeks. How do you think that will affect outdoor dining and what precautions if any are restaurants taking to deal with the perceived threat?
Weston: I have not heard any restaurant express any concern about the cicadas whatsoever. Since there is no concern I do not think that anybody is making any preparations. I guess they will just deal with that as it comes. But nobody seems to be worried about that. At least no one has expressed any concern about that to me.
You have a situation where a lot of restaurant employees are choosing not to return to work in part because they can make more money by continuing to receive enhanced unemployment benefits. How prevalent is that problem?
Weston: I do not want to put it squarely on unemployment. We think that there are a lot of different factors that we have learned are part of this reason why people are not returning to work. Certainly, the robust stimulus checks play a part in this. The federal boost in unemployment benefits plays a part in this.
But we also have families that have still not sent their children back to in-person learning. And they are staying home with their children in that regard. We have some people that are not vaccinated and maybe are hesitant or are just not comfortable with returning to work yet. Then there is the idea of childcare. There are not as many opportunities for childcare right now as compared to in the past. So some people do not have childcare. There are a lot of things at play. But the ultimate end result is that restaurants just do not have enough employees to meet the demands of the consumer right now.
Many restaurant customers are concerned about whether restaurant staff are vaccinated. And some restaurants have gone as far as requiring employees to wear special bracelets designating their vaccination status as a way to help instill confidence in safety standards. Do you see this as a major issue for restaurants?
Weston: No. That is something that has just not been talked about or put under my radar. Over the past several months we have been educating our restaurant owners on where employees can go to get vaccinated. Based on my personal experience, with what we see now-we are getting to a point where if somebody wants to get the vaccine they can get the first dose in very short order. That is not an issue that I have heard much about from restaurants. Early on they were wanting to know where they could tell their employees to go to get vaccinated. But I am afraid I do not have a real report on that.