Pressure is growing on Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to reopen restaurants for outdoor seating as the businesses struggle to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.
For now, even as the state has started lifting restrictions on other businesses, restaurants have been forced to remain virtually shut down aside from carryout and delivery services.
“We need to have a timeline for reopening to dine-in customers as soon as we can,” said Marshall Weston, president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland.
Weston’s group, which represents the state’s food service industry, said Maryland restaurants have lost more than $1 billion in sales during the pandemic and about 150,000 restaurant employees have been laid off or furloughed across the state.
“Restaurants continue to struggle financially,” Weston said. “Curbside and takeout are not going to be enough to keep restaurants open.”
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot is also calling for Hogan to open outdoor seating areas.
“While I do not believe that we’re ready to allow indoor seating, I feel that we have to make this allowance,” said Franchot.
“My fear is that if we don’t make this common sense policy adjustment, we’re not going to have a restaurant industry left.”
Under a plan released by the Restaurant Association of Maryland, outdoor seating areas could allow a maximum of 50 people.
Customers would need to be assigned a table and would not be allowed to stand in outdoor seating areas, and each table would be limited to six people.
“The new outdoor seating policy would have to be done with true adherence to social distancing and other preventative practices,” Franchot said. “We know that it can be done.”
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Restaurants in Virginia have been allowed to offer outdoor seating to customers, as most of the state has started to reopen.
In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser said that once businesses start to reopen, restaurants would be allowed to have outdoor seating.
The District, and the immediate areas around it in Virginia and Maryland, remain shut down with strict rules keeping businesses from reopening.