Texas Is Allowing Restaurants To Reopen Starting Today. Many Restaurant Owners Fear It Won't Go Well.

"You can't exactly eat with a mask on, and I have a small space where people would be in close proximity to each other."


Starting today, many of Texas's restaurants, movie theaters, malls, and retail locations will be partially open for business, operating at 25 percent capacity, per orders that Gov. Greg Abbott released last Monday. Establishments in counties that have had less than five coronavirus cases as of April 30 may jump straight to operating at 50 percent capacity.

If Texas does not see a vast spike in new COVID-19 cases by May 18, Abbott says, phase two of the reopening can commence. That will involve bumping allowed capacity up to 50 percent in all counties, plus allowing barbershops, hair salons, gyms, and bars to open as well.

The aim is to balance the interests of businesses and workers who have been hit hard by government-mandated lockdowns, who have lost weeks of revenue through no fault of their own, with the public health concerns that led the authorities to shut down much of the economy. Texas has had a less severe outbreak so far than many other states—28,000 infections, with just under 800 deaths. The state's hospitals, even in such cities as Austin and Houston, haven't had to deal with overflowing ICUs like the ones in New Orleans and New York.

But many restaurant owners in Austin, where I live, say that operating at 25 percent isn't feasible for their business models, doesn't seem prudent at this time, and would hardly provide much economic relief anyway.

"From a business perspective, it's negligible at 25 percent. But even at 75 percent, I just don't know how I would manage safe social distancing for everyone and keep my customers and employees safe," says Jay Lee, owner of a pan-Asian restaurant called Koriente. "You can't exactly eat with a mask on, and I have a small space where people would be in close proximity to each other." Lee will keep Koriente closed for now.

"Opening at 25 percent is not viable for our 40-seat restaurant, as we would be adding back the costs we have cut and not serving nearly as many people as we are with to-go service," says Sarah Heard, owner of Foreign and Domestic. The restaurant, which sources from local farms as much as possible, shifted to offering takeout service and groceries (which they intend to maintain for now), plus outdoor seating where you can eat on the premises if you abide by contactless payment and counter pickup. Phase one doesn't change much for them.

For larger restaurants, reopening at this capacity is possible. Mighty Fine and Rudy's Bar-B-Q both have foldable chairs and tables in their locations, notes brand director Allyson Young, so it plans to reconfigure its indoor dining space to accommodate social distancing. It has maintained a full staff during the Texas shutdown, having shifted to takeout service—indeed, it's even been hiring.

Salt Lick BBQ owner Scott Roberts says the restaurant, located in the nearby town of Dripping Springs, will do a modified version of phase one, keeping its dining room closed but shifting toward outdoor seating. His plan: "Get the barbecue, find a shade tree, and enjoy." The restaurant will reassess its options when phase two starts.

Smaller restaurant owners are less optimistic. Paola Guerrero-Smith, co-owner of Buenos Aires Café, says: "Last week we re-organized our floor layout [at the East 6th St. location] just to see what it would look like to have a less crowded seating arrangement per other cities protocols. And it was an eye opener for sure. The restaurant as we once knew it is no longer a reasonable business model anymore. At least not for a while."

"Nothing changed since March 17," adds Guerrero-Smith. "The cases have not dropped and we are still at risk. Our restaurant is already small, and to operate at 25 percent capacity means 20 guests at any given time. Twenty-five percent or less labor is 7 of the 30 employees, 25 percent or less of the food and beverage offerings we can offer. But it doesn't mean 25 percent less of our financial responsibilities. Payments are being deferred but not forgiven. And when our staff loses unemployment because now we have to [be] 'open for business' then we are going to have even further serious problems."

Guerrero-Smith's concerns about unemployment benefits are reasonable. Day cares have been instructed to only take the children of "essential" workers, but any workers who choose not to return once their employers reopen will no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits. The Texas Tribune reports that the Texas Workforce Commission said earlier this week that it is "considering case-by-case waivers" that would alter the rules, but nothing has been finalized.

Not only are many smaller restaurant owners unable or unwilling to open at 25 percent, but there are a host of other problems that come with the state's confusing, contradictory patchwork of rules, some of which have not been suspended in advance.

And of course, demand might not bounce back in phase one, or even phase two. People have lost a lot of disposable income and gained a lot of caution. Will the joy of going out to dinner—the busy hum of a full restaurant, the knowledge you won't have to do any dishes later, the comfort of being taken care of by an especially attentive waiter, the ability to revel in dishes you'd struggle to make in your own kitchen—be easily summoned again?

Abbott's critics argue that he made a rash decision to reopen while Texas's testing capacity remains low. Texas Monthly argues that the governor has cherry-picked data and time frames to convey that Texas's cases are dwindling. But that matters less if business owners are willing to pick up the slack, making independent decisions while considering their own risk tolerance and financial realities. 

The issue is the actual on-the-ground circumstances of those who are affected by this pandemic and the subsequent closures. Smaller restaurants will be hit hardest by this, and reopening at such reduced capacities unfortunately delivers far less economic relief to them than anticipated.

NEXT: Criticize the Michigan Protesters for Crowding Into a Building Without Masks On, Not for Peacefully Carrying Weapons

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  1. This wouldn’t be a problem if Texans would eat with their mouths closed.

  2. “You can’t exactly eat with a mask on”

    You can with the right kind of “mask”.

    This shit’s gonna just get weirder.

    1. You can with the right kind of “mask”.

      Feed bags and one of those beer helmets?

  3. lmao. This is going swimmingly. I don’t see this mask bullshit lasting more than a couple of weeks. We need legislation passed to eliminate any civil or wrongful death lawsuits associated with covid and we need it yesterday. Otherwise what business’s that are left will be sued out of existence.

    1. How are they going to win a case when there is no way in hell to prove a case of C19 came from a specific place.
      There will always be reasonable doubt that the C19 came from some other place the person was in the last 14 days. Or from somewhere somebody else the person knows went in the last 14 days.
      The business should always counter sue and claim the person brought the disease into the location and infected everyone else.

      1. It isn’t about winning in decisions. It’s about settlements. With protective legislation there’s no point in suing since there’s no chance they will get to court.

        1. This. If you’ve ever been involved in a fraudulent workers comp case or civil lawsuit you’d know it.

        2. It’s also about preponderance of evidence and not reasonable doubt if it’s a civil case.

      2. Jesus dude you don’t seem to understand how our court system works. It’s cheaper in many cases to settle irregardless of whose right or wrong. Especially when insurance companies are involved, because than they can just bill you in the future as a greater risk.

        1. Kramer : It’s just a write off for them .
          Jerry : How is it a write off ?
          Kramer : They just write it off .
          Jerry : Write it off what ?
          Kramer : Jerry all these big companies they write off everything
          Jerry : You don’t even know what a write off is .
          Kramer : Do you ?
          Jerry : No . I don’t .
          Kramer : But they do and they are the ones writing it off .

      3. Same way you prove the original of a food poisoning outbreak. You trace all the cases.

    2. Obviously it will be hard to assign blame, as the person responsible for spreading the disease may be asymptomatic and totally unaware they are doing it. While they might be able to find this person (just like they eventually identified Typhoid Mary) allowing lawsuits will lead to many people refusing to be tested or cooperate with tracing; thus, reducing society’s ability to stop the spread of it. IMHO, it’s in society’s interest, to prohibit people suing others for giving them the virus.

      But I could see a law, whereby if you refuse to be tested as a suspected carrier by a government virus tracing agent, and later are found to have it and spread it to others, then you would be liable to lawsuits for spreading it. Such a law seems reasonable to this libertarian: it helps government protect us, from others carrying the virus who’d harm us, whether they know it or not.

  4. “You can’t exactly eat with a mask on,”

    Actually you can. I’ve seen women eat while wearing a burka.

    1. Lmao. We are all going to be dressed in the garb we were all mocking last month shortly here. Turns out the Muslims were a head of the curb science wise.

      1. Halal is really just a set of medieval food safety rules.

  5. Media and Pols have done their job too well.
    Strong, non-elderly healthy people are terrified of Corona Cooties.

    1. Speaking as someone with a family member working at the hospital, you should be terrified of the virus. Unlike the flu, this one appears to leave lasting damage to vital organs in many patients (not just the elderly or those with underlying health issues). And it’s not exactly lucky to be asymptomatic without damage to your organs, when you may be giving it to many of the people you interact with, care about, and or depend upon. The latest thing I’m hearing is that people are afraid to come to the hospital and crashing and dying at home as a result.

      The way I see this, is the world has changed, and for many people, catching the virus will be deadly or close to it, and we’ll be physical distancing for the rest of our lives until, and if, they are able to develop a vaccine. We don’t have a vaccine for the common cold which is mostly caused by rhinoviruses but also by some coronaviruses. And I’ve not seen evidence getting the virus gives you any immunity to it later, which is the case for the cold. And obviously the flu virus mutates every year as different vaccines are created every year. Not being a virologist I don’t have the skills to know with any confidence, and mostly what I hear is “There’s a lot we don’t know about this virus”.

      1. Fuck off, slaver.

      2. Working in a hospital gives people a highly biased sample. Doctors and nurses are the last people we should be listening to for policy advice.

  6. Do we really need to discuss whether it’s physically possible to eat with a mask on? I’m sure it is, but that’s a shitty experience, and for a lot of customers (me included) not worth it. That’s the real concern.

  7. I understand their fears, as encapsulated by this comment.

    “Listen. And understand. That virus is out there. It can’t be bargained
    with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear.
    And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are … most likely mildly
    ill or possibly hospitalized if you have a pre-existing condition and in an
    unknown but probably very small number of cases maybe dead if you’re also
    really old.”

    1. I get mildly ill regularly, as do all human beings. If that stopped us from living our lives, we might as well just kill ourselves right now.

  8. Leave to government to not understand the economics of keeping a business open.

    1. Oh some of them understand, they just don’t fucking care. There are a non-zero number of politicians using this as an excuse to implement all kinds of crazy schemes they’d never get support for before, to those scumbags all the economic damage is a feature, not a bug.

  9. Fuck em. Not wearing a mask, not paying a fine, shove it. You retards can wear em if it pleases you. Not gonna be a slave to whiny liberal democrats.

    1. like ideas. wish subscribe newsletter.

  10. have you been to an olive garden? its nothing but seniors and high riskers. the smart set, lean, young and healthy couldn’t fill up 10% of the closed restaurants.

    1. “smart set”

  11. >>Opening at 25 percent is not viable for our 40-seat restaurant

    it’s like nobody’s been to a Tasty-Freeze before. also, if *everyone* out to eat stops w/the Mask Nonsense the stupid idea of eating in a mask will die out even quicker

    1. They’ve been spreading this goofy story about people getting the coof from air conditioning to scare-monger a bit further.

      1. I have two thoughts on that.

        1) A Green New Deal plot
        2) I hope we can start charging a premium to install UV lights into our duct work systems.

      2. the What to Fear When You’re Fearful list has been comical

  12. “Some people”

    A cop out used by hack writers to put a patina of consensus or validity on their person opinions.

    “Some people” think you need to wear foil hats to keep the CIA from beaming mind-control rays into your brain.

    1. Well I wear one and I’ve never had MY brain invaded by CIA control rays.

  13. Will the joy of going out to dinner—the busy hum of a full restaurant…

    I never understood how eating crammed ass-to-elbow and screaming conversations over the din was ever enjoyable.

  14. Of course the restaurateurs in Austin are going to tow the democratic party line, does she never go out in Austin. A little bit of New York City in the Lone Star State. Not that parts of Dallas and Houston are much better. Go talk to the owners in the outer band towns like Katy or Kerrville or Victoria before you write an article about restaurants in Texas.

    1. Go talk to the owners in the outer band towns like Katy or Kerrville or Victoria before you write an article about restaurants in Texas.

      Would love to, but it seems they all disappeared…


      Absolutely right about Austin, Dallas, and Houston. I’d throw San Antonio in that list pretty quick too.

      1. I’d say Austin is more like Monterey On the Colorado than New York City–a spread-out, mostly white, mostly upper middle class, trust fund hipster and retiree haven. They’ve had a tech infusion in recent years, so they’re starting to resemble Silicon Valley more and more.

        San Antonio fucking sucks now. It used to be a pretty decent working-class city to visit, but they’ve had a MASSIVE population upsurge in the last 20 years and it shows. The people there are inordinately proud of their shitty taquerias, despite the fact that they’re all basically the same tasteless glop regardless of where you get them. I’ve lived in Albuquerque, an equally shitty city about half the size, and their food makes San Antonio’s seem like pig slop by comparison. The one truly decent thing about SA is that the airport is ridiculously easy to access, whether coming or going.

  15. Opening at 25 percent is not viable for our 40-seat restaurant, as we would be adding back the costs we have cut and not serving nearly as many people as we are with to-go service,” says Sarah Heard, owner of Foreign and Domestic.

    Yep, because as it turns out you have to serve ‘X’ number of people to stay in business and with a newly minted to-go service you’ll save cash on little things like labor costs. Don’t really need servers to sling food out a window, now do you? Make no mistake that’s what this person is saying.

  16. Resturants cant operate at 25%, or even 50% – They would lose less money by staying closed.

    1. They probably need about half the kitchen staff to do their to-go service, too. The thing I’d be concerned about is the rent.

    2. Said the guys who never ran a restaurant.

  17. Ad Note: I live in Texas and today Dominoes in my area stopped delivering pizzas. You are required to come get you pizza…weird!

  18. I just don’t know how I would manage safe social distancing for everyone and keep my customers and employees safe,” says Jay Lee, owner of a pan-Asian restaurant called Koriente. “You can’t exactly eat with a mask on, and I have a small space where people would be in close proximity to each other.

    WHY is it the responsiblity of the restaurant owner to monitor and enforce the stupid “social distancing” regs anyway? What is he now forced to don the Nannie Hat as well as Owner hat?

    Provide the space for the customers that meets the blab sheets from on high. Then if two table sets of folks decide to get up and shove their tables together LET THEM. Are you now their Mommie?

    Eating with a mask on? Get real. Masks are in theory to prevebt outbound distribution of pathogens. Eating is INbound activity. If I enter a resturant and it looks too crowded, or someone does not have a mask on, and I feel “unsafe” (trust me, THAT won’t happen any time soon) let ME decide to turn about and walk out the door to find another place.
    This whole charade astounds me in two ways.. first, the government poohbahs and their mandates, deciding for EVERYONE a one size looks like it might fit all policy, which is insane enough. but THEN the PEOPLE shut up, sit down and TAKE it. In the space of two weeks the COnstitutions Bill of Rights was shredded, and it all happened “just like that”.
    Now THAT genie’s out of the bottle, it will take forever to round him up and stuff him back in there where he belongs.

  19. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through this pandemic is how easily it is to turn people into sheep and what low quality leadership we have in North America. And they reacted exactly as I expected because low IQ politicians go full authoritarian.

    This shut down will go down as one of the most retarded self-induced errors in history and we let it happen.

    At some point EVERYONE just has to engage in civil disobedience because the longer this goes, the longer the recovery will be. The other problem I have with these medical bureaucrats is I’ve lost trust in them. They’ve been using erroneous models scaring people for nothing and have been sending mixd messages.

    Fauci, Tam here in Canada and everyone in between screaming ‘it’s not safe’ can fuck off at this point in my opinion. Keeping HEALTHY people isolated will only prolong the misery and delay the inevitable. They couldn’t care less about your health. This is all POLITICS now. All of it and Fauci is liking his time in the spotlight a tad too much.

    I’m no doctor (thank God because doctors lack logic from what I can see in all this. I’ve seen one too many who are insisting we pant shit) but basic logical, common sense is saying that, yes, this thing is serious but not fatal.

    If we get it, we get it. I’m already tired of people scolding me for having the audacity to not want to protect myself because I dare say I’d rather get it than put up with what I think is hysteria.The vast majority of people will survive. Letting it control us is a coward’s game and our leaders are too busy tying to cynically set themselves up to me heroes who ‘saved us’ when in fact they’re destroying lives and the economy for something that is not an existential threat.

    We have to get OUT THERE. Open the damn economy and get out of the way. Give us reasonable protocols. There’s not much more we can do.

    The cure is ALREADY worse than the disease across the social and economic landscape. There are idiot experts out there who have the audacity to continue scaring people saying social distancing will be necessary until 2022. Do they even bother to pretend caring about what the fall out of this brain-dead claim will be for us?

    “Will the joy of going out to dinner—the busy hum of a full restaurant, the knowledge you won’t have to do any dishes later, the comfort of being taken care of by an especially attentive waiter, the ability to revel in dishes you’d struggle to make in your own kitchen—be easily summoned again?”

    Man is a social being. We’re not robots. I think it will come back and I will be sure to patron restaurants as often as I could and I want to see it without the kabuki theatre of mandating mask wearing. The masks, for the most part, are not effective and serve to only assuage psychological concerns. People need to just find their courage and not hide behind stupid notions that they’re ‘together’ and ‘heroes’ for cowering in their homes.

    Get off your asses people and BE FREE. WE’RE NOT SHEEP.

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  21. Isn’t that fabulous? Our benevolent big brother is oh so graciously allowing “free and sovereign” Americans the privilege of operating their private businesses? How magnanimous!

    I’d say there is a revolution coming, but so-called Americans are mostly castrated wimps these days. So many have been brainwashed by the public “education” system and the state propaganda organs that they just roll over and whimper “yes massa, we hear and obey massa”

  22. “‘Nothing changed since March 17,’ adds Guerrero-Smith. ‘The cases have not dropped and we are still at risk.” A lot has changed, you moron: It’s become even more obvious that what a lot of people were saying all along is true: Wuflu is no worse than seasonal flu, possibly less dangerous, and 99.8% of people who get it survive it. Most people who get it don’t even know they have it. Fuck you and fuck your restaurant. You’re the reason the government gets away with this unconstitutional bullshit: “Oooh, safety. Oooh, let’s all pull together. Whatever you say, Supreme Dictator Abbott.” Fuck. You.

  23. The Salt Lick is in Driftwood, not Dripping Springs, Ms. Local.

    This just shows the best answer is to open everything up and let entrepeneurs figure out the best solutions, not some ham fisted one size fits all solution.

  24. “Texas Is Allowing Restaurants To Reopen Starting Today. Many Restaurant Owners Fear It Won’t Go Well.”

    So we should keep them all closed, I guess. Can’t have people making up their own minds, can we?

  25. I used to hope that we would someday reach Peak Stupid. Now i realize that we have an infinite supply, and will never run short.

  26. Somehow I think Austin is not representative of Texas as a whole.

  27. Surprise. The panic porn pushers were wrong.

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