Governor Cooper just can’t seem to win for losing these days. The North Carolina Democratic Governor is popular with ordinary citizens, but not so much within the bar and restaurant community. The industry blames him for a wide range of woes since being placed under restrictions enacted in March to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Cooper has implemented a spider web of restrictions that guide the industry on when and how they can serve customers. To some degree these mandates have not favored the private bar industry where they don’t serve food to help offset lost alcohol sales and they don’t fall under Department of Health and Human Services oversight - which further places them at odds with the governor’s approach to managing the pandemic.
Eating and drinking establishments have been ravaged the past 10 months with 17% of the entire industry or 110,000 businesses closed permanently, 2.3 million service industry employees remain unemployed, and here locally 52% of bars and restaurants have seen a drop in sales over 50% in the past six months according to a survey conducted by Triad Food & Beverage Coalition.
Cooper recently signed an order allowing mixed cocktails to go with the intent of giving a boost to bars, restaurants, and other retail hospitality businesses. Guests can purchase one mixed beverage to go or for delivery using a proprietary or third party service. Of course the cocktail to go must be properly sealed as not to violate state laws regulating open containers.
The order was met with mixed fanfare with some arguing it won’t be helpful with others embracing the olive branch that may allow a small bump in sales. Lawmakers from both parties had no objection, but I’m sure they will seek to examine the measure closely when the upcoming legislative session kicks off.
I predict the order may benefit craft cocktail bars and specialty restaurants more so than neighborhood bars and casual restaurants – but that’s okay. The executive action is not a cure all, but moreover just another tool operators can add to their toolbox as they navigate an unprecedented environment.
Restaurant operators have been told to “pivot” and many have closed temporarily, reduced staff, increased marketing, altered operating hours, and attempted to incorporate curbside pick-up, delivery and online sales. But the pandemic has been ongoing for 10 months and operators have exhausted capital and creativity, not to mention patience.
We now have a vaccine and effective therapeutics providing a light at the end of the tunnel – but realistically it will take until next summer or fall before there is widespread distribution. Congress must act to save restaurants now.
Algenon Cash is a nationally recognized speaker and the managing director of Wharton Gladden & Company, a consulting firm. Reach him at email@example.com