Texas Restaurant Association president: Phased opening approach is responsible way forward

With Texas restaurants facing 688,000 layoffs between the end of February and the end of April, Texas Restaurant Association President and CEO Emily Williams Knight said a phased reopening approach for dining rooms is the start of a path towards recovery. (John Cox/Community Impact Newspaper)
With Texas restaurants facing 688,000 layoffs between the end of February and the end of April, Texas Restaurant Association President and CEO Emily Williams Knight said a phased reopening approach for dining rooms is the start of a path towards recovery. (John Cox/Community Impact Newspaper)

With Texas restaurants facing 688,000 layoffs between the end of February and the end of April, Texas Restaurant Association President and CEO Emily Williams Knight said a phased reopening approach for dining rooms is the start of a path towards recovery. (John Cox/Community Impact Newspaper)

It has been a bleak six weeks for the restaurant business in Texas since stay-at-home orders began going into place around the state.

According to a survey by the National Restaurant Association released April 20, 61% of restaurant employees in Texas have been laid off or furloughed since February—representing more than 688,000 employees.

A separate study from the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs found that half of restaurant owners in Texas say it will take their businesses nine months or longer to recover from the crisis, and 3% say they don't expect to ever recover.

Yet, according to Texas Restaurant Association President and CEO Emily Williams Knight, only 6% of Texas restaurants received a federal loan designed to keep small businesses afloat in the first round of funding for the Payroll Protection Program, and 30% of Texas restaurants are in danger of closing for good.

Williams Knight said Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to open restaurants and other businesses in phases—beginning May 1 with dining areas allowed to open at 25% of their capacity—is the start of a path to recovery for struggling restaurants across the state.


“We came out very strongly in appreciation of the government’s response. By opening at a 25% threshold, he’s balancing the safety and public health with the needs of the economy,” Williams Knight said.

Abbott said if public health data shows Texas is continuing to contain the coronavirus over the course of two weeks, capacity will be expanded at dine-in areas to 50% of capacity on May 18. The orders are allowing permission, Abbott said, not mandating openings.

“There was a sigh of relief for a date and then a sigh of relief that you’re not required to open. If you’re not ready, you can take the time do it right,” Williams Knight said. “We don’t want to end up back in a shelter in place.”

Alcohol to-go sales and grocery sales will be allowed to continue even as restaurants start to open with limited occupancy. Abbott tweeted April 28 that his administration may allow alcohol sales to “keep on going forever.” Williams Knight said the waivers, along with the phased-in dining room opening approach, is a start, but restaurant owners and customers will have to be responsible and keep social distancing to make sure there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Twenty-five percent (opening) doesn’t work forever or more than a couple weeks. Let’s do this well to get ourselves to the next phase as soon as possible,” she said.
By Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Central Austin and Southwest Austin editions. He began his career as a sports reporter in Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in 2018. He grew up in Maine and graduated from Boston University, but prefers tacos al pastor to lobster rolls. You can get in touch at jflagler@communityimpact.com


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