Tuesday afternoon during a news conference, the leader of the Texas Restaurant Association said Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to allow 100% capacity, “is a light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel.”
From Montelongo's restaurant in Lubbock, Gov. Abbott announced that starting next Wednesday, all businesses could open at full capacity and said, "I am ending the statewide mask mandate."
Abbott said COVID-19 hasn't suddenly disappeared, but based his decision on the decrease in hospitalizations, vaccines available, 9% positivity rate and medical treatments.
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He continued that people should still be careful, even with the relaxed rules.
"Despite these changes, remember this, removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility or the importance of caring for your family members or caring for your friends or caring for others in the community," said Abbott.
Emily Williams Knight, President and CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association said she echoed that the food industry must continue safe practices.
“While we celebrate today’s news, we must remain vigilant, so we do not slide backwards. Consumers will only go where they feel safe, and so restaurants must continue to be very thoughtful and implement the safety protocols that will enable them to maintain and build trust with their consumers and employees," said Williams Knight.
Gov. Abbott said if businesses want to implement safety protocols, they can, but don’t need the state telling them how to operate.
Regarding how customers may react to an owner’s decision of whether to require masks and other measures, there is worry some may have a negative reaction.
“It’s absolutely a concern. Earlier in the pandemic, we did hear several stories of customers becoming angry and potentially threatening with restaurant employees who were frankly just trying to do their jobs and keep people safe. So, yes there’s a concern and that’s frankly where we call on every single Texan to show each other grace and kindness and patience,” said Kelsey Erickson Streufert, VP of Government Affairs and Advocacy of the Texas Restaurant Association.
“Everyone has strong opinions about the virus and what we need to be doing, but at the end of the day, these are small business owners in many cases and in many cases young employees just trying to do the best job that they can,” said Erickson Streufert,
She said they strongly encourage owners to post the “Texas Restaurant Promise” which addresses social distancing, hand sanitizing stations and other safety protocols.
Restaurant owners like Jon Alexis of TJ’s Seafood Market and Grill and Malibu Poke in Dallas said he’s happy about the governor’s announcement.
"The governor's announcement today just gave us a lot more freedom and a lot more options in doing what we always do, make people feel safe and happy," said Alexis.
He, like many others have said the past year has been rough.
"The pandemic was hard, heck, we had a tornado blow through 15 months ago, and then the storm wasn't fun either,” said Alexis. "We are lucky, my business has been around my business has been around enough, old trees have deep roots, we've weathered the storm as best as we can, but I know other restaurant operators are not as lucky."
Since last March, about 11,000 restaurants have closed for good and 167,000 Texans still don’t have a job, according to Knight.
But even with the news of more people allowed in restaurants, there is a worry that employees who are not vaccinated or feel uncomfortable with eased restrictions will be hesitant to show up.
“I think it is a concern. Our industry only works if you have employees, you can’t outsource food preparation and bring in robots, you got to have employees to do the work and we had a labor shortage before the pandemic, so it’s certainly top of every restaurant operator’s mind that they need their employees feeling safe and comfortable coming to work,” said Esrickson Streufert.
That’s a reason why Alexis said he has to have some major conversations with his staff in regards to next steps as they prepare to let more customers in next week.
“First and foremost, we’re going to talk to our staff. If our staff wants our guests wearing masks, we’re probably going to ask guests to wear masks, but at least we have the freedom to make that decision as business operators, that’s all we ever asked for,” said Alexis.
And while his staff and customer’s health remain his top concern, he’s also ready for business to shoot back up.
"We look forward to a really busy and profitable 2021,” said Alexis.