It's Mother’s Day weekend, and taking mom out to eat is normally the thing to do.
“For most restaurants, Mother's Day weekend, that Sunday is usually the busiest day of the year for them,” said Emily Williams Knight, Texas Restaurant Association President and CEO. “We have a lot of hope but certainly it's a very big weekend and all eyes are on the weekend here in Texas across every county.”
Things will be different this year for customers hoping to celebrate and for restaurants open, but at 25% capacity or opting to stay with curbside and take out.
Knight says an industry that brings in $70 billion in revenue from independent to chain restaurants is learning to do business again. A key component is The Texas Restaurant Promise, a commitment between restaurants and customers to each do their part to keep each other safe.
“Many restaurants have the promise posted on the door. Here’s what we're gonna do for you. And here's what we need for you to do for us,” Knight said.
That promise, in part, allowed for restaurants to open dining rooms on May 1 with reduced capacity and increased protections against coronavirus. Diners were ready but in some cases, resistant to follow new rules about social distancing.
“We continue to message to restaurants talking points and how to have that conversation with customers. And we also encourage them that is someone is being unsafe, they can ask them to leave. That's the world we live in right now,” Knight said.
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Now in the second weekend of reopening, patios are freed from the 25% ceiling on capacity but six-feet of distance and six or less per table still apply.
“Some of the early feedback we’re getting from consumers is that they feel comfortable dining outside, and so the governor eased those restrictions,” Knight said.
Getting to the next phase, phase two by May 18, she says, requires trust between restaurants and customers; with both doing their part to protect the other.
“We're very hopeful to get to 50%, and then the dream is to by June 1 to be at 75%,” she said.
Knight says before the coronavirus crisis, 50,000 restaurants in Texas, second-most in the country, employed 1.4 million people.
Almost overnight, 700,000 jobs vanished. A statewide survey by the restaurant association showed 10 percent are gone for good, and Knight fears more may never come back.
“So right now, we're projecting a minimum of nine months for us to get back to any sense of normalcy. I think a lot of indicators are showing it could be up to two years and through that process, we're gonna lose a number of restaurants,” she predicted.
And now comes the new challenge, “the protein shortage” as Knight calls it.
“We started with beef and we're also getting some hints that poultry is to come,” she said. “Here’s the great news, especially in Texas, we don't have a supply issue with beef. We have plenty of beef. Where we have a challenge is in the processing plants.”
Until processing plants offline or at reduced capacity due to workers sick with coronavirus get back up to speed, the restaurant association is encouraging members to be proactive.
“We've asked restaurants that are very heavy on protein, or beef, for example, our barbecue restaurants, for example, to maybe limit different items,” Knight said. “And, most important, is talking to distributors and suppliers. We think it's probably gonna get a little bit worse before it gets better.”
Still even in the face of so much, Knight who became the association's chief executive officer a year ago, credits the resiliency of restaurants for finding ways - like curbside meals, alcohol to go and meal kits - to still serve customers this Mother’s Day weekend.