Apr 30, 2020 - Economy & Business

Restaurants gingerly test how to return amid coronavirus

Kim Hart, author of Cities

Tables are marked off at J. Christopher's restaurant that now offers dine-in service in Decatur, Georgia. Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

As restaurants in some areas begin reopening their doors, their performance will provide a first big test of Americans' readiness to resume life outside their homes.

Why it matters: Restaurants play a major role in just about every downtown core, shopping district and office hub. But that doesn't mean people will be ready to slide into a booth right away.

Driving the news: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis yesterday announced restaurants can reopen on Monday at 25% indoor seating capacity.

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that restaurants can reopen Friday at 25% capacity, along with retail shops, malls and movie theaters — but not all restaurant owners are ready to invite patrons into their dining rooms.
  • In Georgia, restaurants were allowed to reopen this week with restrictions, such as limits on dine-in customers and mandatory mask-wearing.
  • Tennessee restaurants are now allowed to be open at 50% capacity.
  • Colorado is easing its stay-at-home order but will still restrict restaurants to takeout and delivery.

By the numbers: Restaurants employ about 15.6 million workers, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and the industry saw its largest employment drop on record when restaurants suddenly closed last month, according to the National Restaurant Association.

What's happening: Restaurants known for delivery and take-out have weathered the coronavirus downturn better than those that, up until a month ago, were focused on dine-in business, per Yelp.

  • Restaurants using order-ahead and take-out apps will continue to get consumer spending.
  • In China, restaurants that leveraged order-ahead and delivery apps came back faster — and consumers were more likely to adopt these apps than before the coronavirus lockdown, according to Katherine Fogertey, restaurant research analyst at Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research.

What to watch: "Consumers are going to be on the hunt for value," said Fogertey in a recent Goldman Sachs webinar — which means that fast food joints and low-priced eateries will recover fastest.

  • For dine-in restaurants, the first phase will include sneeze guards around booths and the removal of tables to increase physical distance between diners.
  • Corporate dining and high-end restaurants will come back even more slowly.
  • Restaurants in malls, stadiums and tourist hubs are likely to be the last to come back.
  • Local chains, especially those that source their food from local farms, will be more trusted by consumers early on in the recovery.

What's next: All restaurants will be incentivized to increase cleanliness standards, per Yelp's data science editor Carl Bialik.

  • He also expects greater use of reservations and wait-lists so people can avoid the busiest times for dining and better control their interaction with restaurants.

Go deeper

Updated 7 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump says RNC is looking outside of North Carolina for convention site

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in 2018. Photo: Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

President Trump tweeted on Tuesday night that because of ongoing coronavirus restrictions in North Carolina, the Republican Party will be "forced to seek another state" to host its convention in August.

The big picture: The late-night tweet came after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) told convention organizers earlier Tuesday that Republicans should plan for a "scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings" given the impact of the pandemic.

Updates: George Floyd protests continue past curfews

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued Tuesday across the U.S. for the eighth consecutive day, prompting a federal response from the National Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

The latest: Even with early curfews in New York City and Washington, D.C., protesters are still out en masse. Some protesters in D.C. said they were galvanized by President Trump's photo op in front of St. John's Church on Monday and threat to deploy U.S. troops in the rest of country if violence isn't quelled, NBC News reports.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Trump backs off push to federalize forces against riots

Photo: Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images

A day after threatening to federalize forces to snuff out riots across the country, the president appears to be backing off the idea of invoking the Insurrection Act, sources familiar with his plans tell Axios.

What we're hearing: Aides say he hasn’t ruled out its use at some point, but that he's “pleased” with the way protests were handled last night (apart from in New York City, as he indicated on Twitter today) — and that for now he's satisfied with leaving the crackdown to states through local law enforcement and the National Guard.