Published on Thursday, November 19, 2020

As several cities announce new restrictions on dining and bars, National Restaurant Association is speaking up.


Over the past several weeks, COVID-19 cases have started to surge once again. The new record-breaking numbers and rising deaths have triggered some cities to roll back reopening plans and place new restrictions on restaurants and bars.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was the first to roll out new restrictions, including closures for in-person service at restaurants and bars from 10PM to 5AM. Those restrictions went into effect last Friday, and now other states are following. California Governor Gavin Newsom, for example, announced a similar plan to implement a curfew from 10PM to 6AM for restaurants and bars, and it has reduced outdoor dining capacity.

These officials are relying in part on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that has found a relationship between indoor eating and the spread of the virus. In September, the CDC  published research that found that
As other cities in the US adopt similar restrictions in an effort to control the spread of the virus, restaurant organizations are pushing back. The National Restaurant Association sent an open letter to the Governor’s Association, noting that there is no proven link between the spread of the virus and restaurant dining, and requesting that they reconsider these policies. “There is an unfounded impression that restaurants are part of the problem, and we are suffering as a result of inconsistent, restrictive mandates,” Tom Bené, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, said in the letter.

The association also claims that modeling data provides only limited information on the spread of the virus. A recent modeling exercise, to be published in the journal Nature, looked specifically at the correlation between infection and dining in restaurants. NAA claims that "the project created an ill-advised correlation between the exercise and the risk of dining at restaurants."

Meanwhile, new data suggests that restaurants' gains since the start of the pandemic may be faltering as winter sets in.  According to research from S&P Global Market Intelligence, sales for food services decreased 14.2% in October year-over-year. October's restaurant sales also marked the first month-to-month decline since April when the industry began to bear the full brunt of pandemic dining restrictions, according to a preliminary estimate from the Census Bureau.

"October's sales decline is a troubling sign for the industry, as the month likely included some of the last opportunities for outdoor dining in many parts of the country," the National Restaurant Association said in a Nov. 17 report. "Factoring in the indoor dining restrictions that are currently being reimposed in some jurisdictions, it becomes clear that the winter months will represent an extremely challenging period for restaurants that rely on on-premises business."