Restaurant owners react to guidelines recommending they go contactless

A request from Austin Public Health for restaurants to move to curbside and delivery only as the city transitions into the Stage 5 risk category hasn't been well received by the Texas Restaurant Association. 

"You can't ask people to lose their entire livelihood, their entire business they've built over the years, with no evidence that that will actually help," said Kelsey Erickson Streufert, vice president of government relations and advocacy for the Texas Restaurant Association. 

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Interim health authority Dr. Mark Escott said he's particularly concerned with bars that have been reclassified as restaurants by the TABC during the pandemic. He explained the risk is higher for those types of businesses because people are meeting there to drink and aren’t wearing masks the whole time. That's why restaurants and retail stores are being asked to voluntarily close between 10:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. 

"I spent $30,000 on a food truck, and $20,000 on indoor electrical heating. So I can be in business," said Austin Talley, operations director of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Icehouse. "Now the government, when it's convenient for them, go, ‘Oh, you're a bar that's classified as a restaurant.’ No, I'm a restaurant that's classified as a restaurant."

RELATED: Officials discuss next steps as Austin elevated to Stage 5 restrictions

"I don't expect restaurants to go take out only and I would encourage our community to understand where that's coming from. It's not coming from a place of defiance or not wanting to do our part. It's coming from a place of necessity of caring for those who work for the business," said Streufert.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he encourages the community to order more takeout and tip extra to help offset the impact to restaurant owners.

RELATED: COVID-19 numbers in Austin-Travis County are up 86% since start of Dec

Talley said that statement makes him think government officials just don't get it. 

"We have to try to earn a living and go pay our bills and so, I can't tip extra like Mayor Adler said. And I can't go buy gift cards when businesses don't exist two weeks later if I don't have a source of income," Talley said.  

"It’s kind to say that COVID has been a nightmare for restaurant owners across our state. And then, Austin in particular, we pride ourselves on local businesses, on keeping Austin weird, having our own unique vibe, but, the reality is, those independent local restaurants are the most at risk in this COVID pandemic," Streufert said. 

Although the mayor said the hope is for voluntary compliance, Austin Public Health said a failure to implement Stage 5 recommendations could result in stricter measures. One thing mentioned is the possibility of a curfew. 

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