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Richmond restaurants worry if they’ll survive the winter

“Restaurants will be closing down left and right."
COVID restaurants.jpg
Posted at 5:49 PM, Nov 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-16 18:15:15-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Monday marked day one of new COVID-19 restrictions mandated by Governor Ralph Northam to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Since March, Patrick Stamper has worked to ensure his Richmond restaurants, En Su Boca and Beauvine Burger Concept, were COVID-19 compliant.

“To this day we haven’t had customers sit inside the restaurants. We just aren’t going to do it,” Stamper said. “As the restrictions were dialed back in early Summertime, we expanded our outdoor seating.”

Despite following the precautions like social distancing and wearing face masks indoors, the state now mandates establishments do even more.

Starting at midnight on Sunday, restaurants and bars must stop selling alcohol by 10 p.m. and shut their doors by midnight.

It’s no secret that many restaurants make the most of their income after the sun sets.

“The 10:00 rule is going to have an impact. It certainly will take a chunk out of sales,” Stamper explained.

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Andrea Laughlin, a bartender at District 5 in the Fan District, worried how her employer will be able to stay afloat.

“We are doing a bulk of our work between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. That’s our highest volume and that’s where we make our money,” she stated.

The percent-positivity across the state is now at 6.5%, up from 4.7% back at the start of October. Earlier this week, Northam also expressed concern about the upward trend in COVID-19 increases in the number of cases, hospitalizations.

“We know this virus is spreading in indoor places like restaurants where people take off their masks. It’s spreading at small social gatherings like dinner parties and it’s spreading when people ignore the science and don’t think they need to wear a mask inside,” Northam said in a pre-recorded video message.

The Virginia Department of Health will also strengthen enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines and have the ability to charge offenders with a Class One misdemeanor.

EAT Restaurant Partners Director of Operations and Training Brooke Clarke admitted that some in the restaurant industry have let their guard down when it comes to COVID-19.

“If we don’t make changes in the right direction that unfortunately we will be directly impacted, which means we could go back to take-out only. That is a very, very scary thing for us,” Clarke said. “What others do negatively impact us all. They wouldn’t have created a misdemeanor fine or charge if this wasn’t a recurring issue.”

Clarke said they have taken every precaution at their various restaurants that include Boulevard Burger and Brew and Fat Dragon.

Demetrios Tsiptsis, owner of New York Deli in Carytown, feared the new restrictions will negatively impact his restaurant.

“We have been very careful to follow the guidelines and do everything the city has asked and we support it,” he stated. “But, this is how we make money. We don’t have really large crowds.”

“Restaurants will be closing down left and right,” Tsiptsis said. “This not only affects the restaurants, but also the people who want to work.”

Eric Terry, president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association, predicted 25 to 30 percent of restaurants would be closing at the start of the pandemic.

“This could start to approach 30 to 40 percent of our restaurants that are closing and can’t recover or sustain it,” Terry said.

He said some establishments will not be able to survive the winter months without significant financial relief.

The hotel industry and the meeting business will also take a hit due to the restrictions on how many people can gather together, Terry said.

The following measures will took effect at midnight on Sunday, November 15:

  • Reduction in public and private gatherings: All public and private in-person gatherings must be limited to 25 individuals, down from the current cap of 250 people. This includes outdoor and indoor settings.
  • Expansion of mask mandate: All Virginians aged five and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. This expands the current mask mandate, which has been in place in Virginia since May 29 and requires all individuals aged 10 and over to wear face coverings in indoor public settings.
  • Strengthened enforcement within essential retail businesses: All essential retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, must adhere to statewide guidelines for physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and enhanced cleaning. While certain essential retail businesses have been required to adhere to these regulations as a best practice, violations will now be enforceable through the Virginia Department of Health as a Class One misdemeanor.
  • On-site alcohol curfew: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol is prohibited after 10:00 p.m. in any restaurant, dining establishment, food court, brewery, microbrewery, distillery, winery, or tasting room. All restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms must close by midnight. Virginia law does not distinguish between restaurants and bars, however, under current restrictions, individuals that choose to consume alcohol prior to 10:00 p.m. must be served as in a restaurant and remain seated at tables six feet apart.