Dire prediction about restaurant closures hits home for Utah businesses

Carlee Packard wipes down a table and chairs after customers finished eating at Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant Monday, April 27, 2020, in Franklin, Tenn. Monday is the first day Tennessee restaurants can reopen with reduced seating and social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) [Apr-27-2020]

(Mark Humphrey, Associated Press, File)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — What the National Restaurant Association told Congress in a letter this week is true, says Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Industry.

In the letter, the association provided results from its recent survey of 6,000 restaurant operators as well as 250 supply chain businesses. The survey found:

  • Nearly 90% of full-service restaurants saw sales revenue drop an average of 36%;
  • Sales have fallen significantly, but not costs;
  • Nearly 60% of owners expect the next three months will include continued furloughs and layoffs;
  • More than 110,000 restaurants are closed permanently or long-term;
  • On average, many of the closed businesses were somewhat long-term (16 years). A full 16% had been in operation for 30 years;
  • And, only half of the former restaurant owners say they'll stay in the restaurant business.

Current status of restaurants in Utah

"Utah is struggling," Sine told KSL NewsRadio. "We have restaurants that have closed permanently … about 450."

"A lot of that is operations downsizing. People that had eight locations now have four locations."

Ten months ago, the Utah Restaurant Association said it employed 109,000 people. Today that number is 63,000. And Sine said Utah restaurants are begging for help.

"And they are being ignored after they responded and did what they were asked to do," she said.

"They closed their dining rooms in a manner of 48 hours … then we have constant emergency orders going out." She said that the continuing notifications, including a late-night statewide alert, sent on a Sunday, are scaring people.

Increasing restrictions on restaurants

Sine said that for 10 months, Utah restaurants have operated under restrictions that keep getting more severe.

One example is that, in counties considered to have a "high" level of transmission (according to the Utah Health Guidance Levels) tables must be placed 6 feet apart, putting most restaurants at around 30% capacity. That percentage equates to an unprofitable situation for the restaurants.

"A restaurant needs to turn its tables at least once a night and two to three times on the weekends to stay profitable," Sine said.


On Nov. 9, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a new state of emergency and public health order preventing bars and restaurants from serving alcohol after 10 p.m., although the establishments are allowed to remain open.

The alcohol restriction is of particular concern to Sine. She wonders how it helps prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Because if I can't go to a restaurant or a bar, where (safety measures) are in place, I am just going to get my alcohol wherever I can, then I'll go to my home and invite my friends over where those safety measures are not in place."

A plea for help

The Utah Restaurant Association is now calling for government intervention. The association's first request is to allow restaurants to fully open with precautions to keep employees and customers safe, Sine said.

"They are our family, they are part of our family. We want them to come back once a week and enjoy an experience. We want to do everything we can to keep them safe and healthy," Sine said.

The other option is for the government to pay restitution to restaurants.

"Pay our losses," Sine said, "which are into the billions."

"It's Christmas time. And it is heartwrenching to think there is no help for this industry and our employees and our families."

The National Restaurant Association said it approves of the current efforts in Congress to create a bipartisan relief package in early 2021. It has also created its own plan which relies on a second draw from the Paycheck Protection Program for restaurants.

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