As threats of second restaurant shutdown loom, owners push back at ‘bad policy’

Restaurant owners are fighting back against misinformation and “bad policy” as a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations threatens to trigger a second restaurant shutdown — something they say science doesn’t support.

“It’s been nine months since restaurants closed, most of them voluntarily, and the majority of us had to furlough our cherished employees, many of whom are family and close friends,” said Ed Kane, principal of hospitality group Big Night, which owns nine Boston venues, including several that won’t be allowed to reopen until a vaccine is widely available.

Kane this week launched Where’s the Plan? — a group of restaurateurs organizing to share resources and urge elected officials to provide a plan to “give the industry hope” and provide transparency on decisions related to regulations and shutdowns.

“Restaurants have battled unthinkable economic constraints,” Kane said. “We deserve a plan from our elected officials.”

Nearly of a quarter of the state’s 16,000 restaurants have closed for good since mid-March. A gradual reopening of outdoor, then indoor dining has recently seen rollbacks in some communities.

Pittsfield suspended table service and transitioned its schools to all-remote learning on Nov. 13. Cambridge city councilors on Monday recommended more aggressive measures for restaurants and small businesses, asking the city manager to collaborate with other cities. The city council does not have the authority to order a shutdown, a power that rests with the mayor.

It’s a concerning trend that Massachusetts Restaurant Association President and CEO Bob Luz said could set off a domino effect that could decimate an industry already “teetering on the brink of extinction.”

“We’re being labeled as superspreaders and being made a convenient scapegoat,” Luz said.

“These communities are not following the facts and they are not following the science and they are not following the data, which is very frustrating. These are bad policy decisions,” Luz continued. “If the governor and his team believe it’s safe to keep us open, then why is it that cities and towns are shutting us down?”

Gov. Charlie Baker has repeatedly said that contact tracing data has not found restaurants to be sources of community transmission. On Monday, the Republican governor again said he had not seen data that would support a statewide shutdown of restaurant table service.

Fewer than 3% of 10,274 restaurants inspected by the state have been found in violation of coronavirus regulations.

Last week state Sen. Diana DiZoglio tried to convince lawmakers to include more than a dozen amendments she said would provide “common sense, much-needed relief” that is “past due” for restaurants and small business. All failed. An economic development that includes similar measures has been tied up in closed-door negotiations for months.

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