While the coronavirus pandemic has battered the U.S. economy as a whole and pushed countless businesses to the brink of financial ruin, restaurants have been particularly hard-hit. Earlier in the year, many states put a complete ban on indoor dining, limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery service only. And while many of those restrictions were lifted for a period of time, now, in many states, they're back again due to rising COVID-19 cases.
It's a situation that's leaving restaurant owners desperate, especially in light of the fact that there hasn't been any aid for small businesses since an initial round of Paycheck Protection Program loans went out earlier in the year.
Of course, having restaurants close down isn't just bad for the people who own them; it's also bad for local economies. When businesses close, jobs go down with them, as does local tax revenue. Furthermore, commercial landlords stand to struggle if restaurant closures increase in light of new restrictions and they're stuck with significant vacancies.
But some restaurants refuse to admit defeat at a time when things seem overwhelmingly bleak. In fact, some are actively fighting back against the restrictions being imposed on them.
Restaurant owners are taking a stand
Though outdoor dining during the warm weather months bought some restaurants a temporary reprieve, with cold weather approaching (or, in some parts of the country, already upon us), establishments that can't serve out in the open air risk struggling immensely. While the takeout and delivery model works fairly well for lower-end establishments, higher-end restaurants can't thrive in the same way. After all, consumers visit higher-end eateries for the service and ambiance, and most aren't keen on ordering a $40 entree in a to-go box to eat at home in front of the TV.
It's not surprising, then, that some restaurants are fighting back against indoor dining restrictions. Some are doing so by simply defying orders and serving customers indoors despite being told not to. And Michigan restaurants are banding together to defend themselves by challenging indoor dining bans through legal channels. Specifically, the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association has filed an official legal action against state authorities.
Could it help save them?
Will these measures work to keep restaurants afloat? Maybe. Establishments that defy local restrictions risk fines and other penalties, but for that to happen, they need to get caught. And law enforcement may, in some cases, look the other way in hopes of throwing restaurants a much-needed bone.
As for the legal side of things, that's a mixed bag. Recently, the California Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit to block the suspension of outdoor dining in Los Angeles County, but its request for a stay was denied.
At the end of the day, restaurants will need some sort of concession if they want to survive the pandemic. And it's in local governments' best interest to keep them in business. Commercial landlords, too, are hoping that restaurants will either have some of their operating restrictions lifted or receive the aid they need to cover their expenses while business is nonexistent or unbearably slow.
If a growing number of restaurants protest and fight back, we may see things turn around for the industry in the near term. And that's important seeing as how a widely available coronavirus vaccine is probably a good five or six months away, and many restaurants simply can't hold on that long.