Half of Texas’ restaurants plan to sit out the state's reopening

Many said they needed more time to restaff, restock and reconfigure. Others cited the 25% capacity cap.
Tex Mex
Photograph: Shutterstock

Nearly half of Texas’ restaurants won’t be reopening their dining rooms today despite the state’s go-ahead to resume on-premise business at 25% of pre-COVID-19 levels, according to a poll by the Texas Restaurant Association (TRA).

The trade group found that operators are nearly evenly split on whether to restart dine-in service under the capacity cap set by Gov. Greg Abbott. About 47.4% of respondents in the association’s poll said they would hold off, 43.4% said they intend to reopen and 9.2% said they were unsure. The poll was conducted earlier this week.

“It will be a very soft opening, in industry terms, but it’s certainly a big day for us,” said Emily Knight, CEO of the TRA. “It’s a big day not only for Texas and our restaurants, but we can tell the nation’s watching. We think we can teach the other states a lot.”

The major reason for sitting out reopening day appears to be the need for more time to get dining rooms ready, staffs rehired and inventories restocked. About 41% of the places indicating they’ll remain on the sidelines today said they anticipate being open by May 18, the target date for the second phase of Abbott’s reopening plan.

“We’ve gotten messages saying, ‘Maybe I’m not ready. I’ve got to get my personnel back,’” Knight said. “Many of our members need about a week of preparation.”

That includes time to restock depleted food supplies. “I got a call today from a member. One item they’re known for, they were unable to get,” Knight continued.

Abbott gave the go-ahead just on Monday for restaurants to partially reopen. Chili’s Grill & Bar, among other operators with a big presence in the state, acknowledged that the go-ahead came as a surprise.

The capacity limit set for the first phase also appears to be a bright yellow light. Asked if they would reopen if the seating cap is raised to 50% as planned under phase two, 20% of the places forgoing on-premise service today said they would indeed welcome guests to eat on-site at that time.

“Some of our restaurants have done the math, and for them it makes more sense to wait on the sidelines,” said Knight.

Still, she said she was surprised by the nearly equal percentage that signaled their intent to reopen. “For many of them, this allows them to sort of get their toe in the water and begin the opening process,” she said.

Respondents with more than one restaurant said they will resume operations across their holdings rather than resume operations place by place. About 30% of the multiunit operators said they will reopen their restaurants all at once, while only 12% said they would resume the operations of only a portion at first.

The TRA indicated that 401 restaurateurs participated in the online poll.

Texas is second only to California in its population of restaurants.  

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