In the wake of troubling COVID-19 numbers, Massachusetts is taking a leap backwards in its reopening plans.
On Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced statewide rollbacks in response to the rising COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts. As of Dec. 13, cities and towns are required to revert back to the first step of Phase 3, with the governor lamenting during a press conference that “the days of most people doing most of the right things are probably not enough.”
Additional restrictions were announced as well, with a number of them directly affecting the restaurant industry. Diners must now wear a mask except when eating or drinking, tables will be limited to six patrons each, a 90-minute time limit will be imposed at each table, and live musical performances will no longer be allowed.
For many restaurateurs — though not all — the statewide rollback will have a notable impact on business. Boston.com reached out to restaurant industry leaders to hear more about how Baker’s recent announcement will affect their operations.
Responses have been lightly edited and condensed for space and clarity.
Arpit Patel, owner at Baramor
“The restaurant industry continues to get singled out without any merit or aid. Anyone who walks down the aisles of a grocery store or hardware store must know that restaurants are actually able to control their environment and patrons. It seems like the governor’s office does not care about the real data but is responding to political pressures. There is one answer if we want to curb the virus: an actual shut down of everything.”
Dave Becker, chef-owner at Sweet Basil, Juniper
“This certainly isn’t the biggest rollback we’ve faced, but this leads to the general anxiety in regards to indoor dining. Anyone that was mildly uncomfortable before I’m pretty sure this was a nail in the coffin for them. I think Governor Baker is in a tough spot and so are all of us as restaurateurs. It’s not like we were busy before these current rollbacks. We’re all just trying to make the best out of a bad situation.”
Jay Spencer, owner at French Press Bakery
“The rollback is catching up to how people have been interacting over the last three to four weeks. We have already started to bring back our contactless and curbside pickup services as we see less people walking in to order at the counter.”
Jonathan Gilman, co-founder at Brato Brewhouse + Kitchen
“The decision seems like it won’t be the final step of future rollbacks. To some extent, more decisive action and subsequent government assistance now would help us make more informed decisions. The slow bleed of this winter is more dangerous than anything else the government could do. If the majority of spreading events are happening within private residences, I just don’t see how slowly rolling back business restrictions helps contain the spread. Business has slowed to a near halt since December, cold weather, and weekend precipitation has begun. Restricting businesses that are not pulling in large numbers of customers in the first place without any rent relief is like kicking us while we are down.”
Josh Weinstein, owner at The Quiet Few
“The rollback doesn’t affect restaurants and bars much. I appreciate the mandate on patrons to wear their masks at all times. Would appreciate it more if bars and restaurants were actually given more help instead of constantly being the guinea pig as to what may or may not be safe.”
Massachusetts Restaurants United
“These rollbacks are another blow to struggling restaurants at a precarious moment. For months, we have pleaded for targeted support to help independent restaurants survive and are deeply disappointed that Governor Baker’s announcement did not come with any emergency relief measures. Independent restaurants need extended winter patio use, liquor license fee reductions, temporary caps on predatory third-party delivery fees, and direct financial support. Massachusetts has already lost hundreds of independent restaurants that brought vibrancy and diversity to communities across our state. It is past time for state leaders to come together to pass the long-stalled Economic Development bill and for officials at all levels to recommit to the survival of our small businesses.”
Michael Coen, owner at The Gaff
“Consumer confidence has already been at its all-time low. I believe that despite all the remarkable efforts made on our end in securing a safe and efficient dining experience, that it will be overlooked after yesterday’s announcement.”
Phi Pham, owner at Phinista Cafe
“We already began this process last week, where we’ve only allowed 40 percent capacity. It’s difficult because we are a small cafe and people have to wait outside in the cold while their food and drinks are being prepared. Crepes and banh mi are made to order so that they are fresh, so during rush hours, we may have many people wait in the freezing weather outside. Our cafe’s customer turnover time is from 45-60 minutes at most, so the 90-minute time limit doesn’t affect us too much. All in all, these processes have, for the large part, been implemented already. Obviously, it will further impact us as we can no longer use outdoor dining, so we’ll drop our capacity in staff to ensure we’re still an operational business both in health and finance. Slowly removing a Band-Aid is painful. But one committed decision to rip it off will hurt in the beginning but won’t drag out. We need a definitive plan of action.”
William Moriarty, wine and spirits director at Rochambeau
“It will require more policing of guests, many of whom already struggle to comply with the existing guidelines. It certainly puts a burden on us to play cop while trying to do our actual jobs. It’s clear Baker has made an effort to allow restaurants to stay open. I certainly appreciate this. That said, nothing has been done to try and assist restaurants beyond simply keeping doors open that many of our former guests are more nervous to walk through than ever. Financial assistance from the State and Federal government is vital to keeping restaurants alive, yet no one seems to be making this any sort of priority.”