Indoor Dining Is Being Restricted Again. Here's Why

COVID — the answer is the surge of COVID cases. 

While covering the new spike in COVID-19, the BBC mentioned how Minnesota had issued a curfew for bars and restaurants at 10:00 pm while New York had done the same for bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Oregon Live picked up on Governor Kate Brown's two-week pause that limits restaurants and bars to 50 people, including staff, while CBS Baltimore reported on how restaurants and bars in Maryland will be reduced to 50 percent.

These restrictions are not simple alarmist overreactions. On Nov. 11, AP reported that the U.S. had achieved a new record in coronavirus cases with over 1 million new cases confirmed during the first ten days of the month, which works out to about 100,000 people per day. In other words, 1 in 433 Americans tested positive in one week. That tied with a piece published by The New York Times on the results of a study that showed that restaurants, gyms, cafes, and outdoor venues accounted for about 80 percent of COVID cases in the first months of the pandemic with restaurants being the worst perpetrators, has caused state governments to impose some restrictions on restaurant operations.

As for why cases are currently heaving, HuffPost points to a combination of bad policy choices and pandemic fatigue. Without restrictions in place and with people who have grown restless with the continued isolation combined, COVID was ready to break loose on populations that lowered their guards.

Winter is coming

After months of furloughs, layoffs, and bankruptcies, the restaurant industry now peers wearily at winter's approach. In October, the National Restaurant Association released figures showing the industry was still 2.3 million jobs short of their pre-pandemic peak. Another survey it compiled revealed one in six restaurants had closed.

Talking to ABC News, Kevin Boehm, cofounder of Boka Restaurant Group in Chicago, expressed how there is "a desperation for the people that we work with ... that have just been put through the wringer." Restaurant workers talking to The Guardian also expressed grievance against the customers who resisted the restrictions in place: "Our income is dependent on customers liking us to a degree so there's an incentive to let people do what they want instead of yelling at them to follow the law." But the failure to do so will most likely make cases continue to rise. 

Still, even with the best customers, winter will challenge an industry reliant on outdoor seating. To help navigate this, Chicago created a competition to brainstorm for ways to "stimulate and encourage safe outdoor dining and entertainment during cold weather in Chicago". Winning ideas reported in the Chicago Sun Times included modular cabins the size of a parking space called "cozy cabins," heated tables that draw inspiration from the Kotatsu used in Japan, and block party, table sized cubicles that can be stacked together or not as needed. Winter will be rough, but with safety measures, some may make it through.