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Restaurant owners in Maryland push for modified reopening, fearing they'll close for good otherwise

The Restaurant Association of Maryland says the economic downturn has led to a $1.4 billion loss for restaurants in the state since the pandemic began.

MARYLAND, USA — As a timeline for fully reopening businesses in the DMV still remains uncertain, Maryland restaurants are pushing for the state to allow outdoor seating, or indoor dining with restrictions, ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Owner Fred Rosenthal first opened Jasper's Restaurant almost 40 years ago, but he said the spread of coronavirus has led to a 75% drop in business.

While delivery and takeout services bring in some revenue, he said the need to reopen indoor dining was becoming more and more important.

"I don’t think we’ve ever since anything quite like this," he said. "With this pandemic being a health issue, it’s something we’ve never had to deal with before. It's been a total shutdown of the industry throughout the country."

Despite the big drop in business, Rosenthal said that his restaurant had plenty of plans to offer a safe environment for customers whenever they can return.

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From setting up a reservation system to cap the number of people inside to putting up booth dividers, he said eating at the restaurant would be safe for customers.

"We’ve automated everything in our bathrooms from the flushing to the hand soap dispensers, the sinks and door openers," he said. "We’ve ordered disposable menus. We are not presetting our tables. We’re having a crew out sanitizing tables between seatings."

Under Phase Two of the Maryland recovery plan, restaurants and bars in the state will be able to offer indoor dining with restrictions.

However, with parts of the state still not even in Phase One, restaurant owners like Rosenthal have become frustrated.

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Rosenthal said that restaurants were held to strict cleaning and sanitary standards before the coronavirus, and things would be improved even more if they could reopen.

"There has to be a way to reopen these buildings, bring back these employees, and put people back to work," Rosenthal said.

The frustration has spread to the Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM), who said the economic downturn has led to a $1.4 billion loss for restaurants in the state since the pandemic began.

The losses have also stretched to the job front, with 150,000 restaurant employees estimated to have been laid off.

As a result of the pandemic, RAM said 25% of restaurants could close permanently in Maryland. 

"Takeout is just not enough," RAM President and CEO Marshall Weston said. "Those sales are generally only 10, maybe 20% of what a restaurant normally does on a given day. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult for restaurants to get by and hang on with such low sales and many are really concerned about having to close permanently."

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RAM has pushed state leaders to allow outdoor dining at restaurants, with Weston echoing Rosenthal's comment that restaurants will use even tougher sanitary and cleaning standards when they can reopen. 

"Restaurants are ready to serve their customers in a safe way," he said. "Every single day of the year, restaurants deal with cleaning and sanitation and health issues. They are there to make their environment safe." 

Around the country, some have voiced concerns about reopening the economy too soon and bringing another wave of coronavirus cases.

However, with Memorial Day weekend often a busy time for eating out, Rosenthal hoped Maryland leaders would soon bring progress for the industry.

"I’m in total agreement -- we can’t reopen too soon," he said. "What we’re saying is we think we have a plan that we can open sensibly."

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