Maryland organizations advocate for restaurants, push for capacity restriction changes

MARYLAND – Almost a dozen organizations on the Eastern Shore are fighting for the future of local restaurants. In a recent letter to Governor Larry Hogan, they urged state officials to loosen restrictions and help these small businesses survive.

“We’re already feeling the pinch even on a rainy weekend and this is only going to be exacerbated as we move further into the fall,” says Bill Chambers with the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce. “What are the numbers that a restaurant owner needs to pay his bills, keep people employed? All of them will tell you that 50 percent capacity doesn’t do it.”

Since the second week of June, Maryland restaurants have been limited to 50 percent of their indoor dining capacity and social distancing guidelines.

“Their tables have to be six feet apart so for some people that might not even mean they have 50 percent of the fire code because they have to keep their tables six feet apart,” says Susan Jones with the Ocean City Hotel Motel Restaurant Association.

Organizations representing local businesses say these restrictions aren’t helping many stay afloat and they say they’ll face more challenges as the weather changes, eliminating the desire for outdoor seating. “It’s going to put a lot of restaurants out of business all over Maryland, not just the Lower Shore,” says Chambers.

So they’re asking state officials to reconsider allowing restaurants to seat more customers inside, closer than six feet from each other, as long as they have barriers between them.

They’re also hoping those decisions can be made at a local level. “We’re going to ask the Governor in this letter signed by ten organizations on the shore to allow local health officers to make the decision on increasing capacity for indoor dining for restaurants,” says Chambers.

Officials say, in the near future, they’ll also be pushing for liability protections for businesses. Chambers says many small businesses are worried about potential lawsuits relating to COVID-19 guidelines. So if the federal government doesn’t address that in the current HEROES Act, local organizations say they’ll urge Governor Larry Hogan to do something on a state level.

One reason these organizations are advocating for these changes goes back to a contact tracing study that apparently shows there’s less of a risk contracting COVID-19 at an indoor restaurant compared to a family gathering. Officials say the goal is to get the state to include these new guidelines in the next level of phase three, if not sooner.

Categories: Local News, Maryland