Opinion: Unjust restaurant closures are the real ’war on women’
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
For years, the mainstream media has claimed that there’s a “war on women.” This conjecture — based on a misleading and largely debunked “gender pay gap” — has always been more rhetoric than reality. Yet now that there is an actual war on women being waged in the form of government closures of restaurants, which disproportionately employ women, the media is mostly silent.
These devastating restaurant stories must be told to encourage government bureaucrats to find a compromise to allow some in-person dining before women’s entrepreneurial dreams and livelihoods are gone for good.
Throughout the country, state and local officials have recently banned in-person dining in an effort to reduce COVID-19 transmission. More than 30 Colorado counties have been moved into the “red” restrictions tier, which forbids indoor dining.
However, there’s little evidence that responsible restaurants are greater transmission vectors than retail outlets, whose “essential” status allows them to avoid the gangplank. According to contact tracing data, bars and restaurants in New York account for just 1.4% of the state’s COVID-19 cases. Private gatherings make up nearly 75% of cases.
While these restaurant restrictions result in little gain, they cause immense pain, especially for women. According to a recent survey, nearly one-quarter of Colorado restaurants will shut down within a month without in-person dining.
This dire situation was spelled out in compelling and painful detail in a letter to the Routt County Board of Commissioners from a Steamboat Springs restaurant owner forced to lay off 90% of her workforce just before the holidays to comply with these restrictions. Such eateries cannot remain profitable operating only on a takeout and delivery shoestring.
This Steamboat restaurant owner explained that women make up about 80% of her management team and over two-thirds of her total employees. Many of these workers are single mothers, who are drawn to the restaurant industry because it’s one of the few sectors of the economy where they can earn a good living while also enjoying flexible hours to balance family responsibilities.
Nationwide, women own or co-own over half of restaurants. Restaurants employ far more female managers than in other economic sectors. Nearly three-quarters of restaurant servers are female. And more than 60% of American women have worked in the restaurant industry at some point in their lives.
A recent viral video of a Los Angles restaurant owner exemplifies the suffering facing so many in this industry. Angela Marsden, owner of Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill, noted how despite her yeoman’s efforts to comply with public health guidelines regarding capacity limits, outdoor dining and mask use, she had recently been shut down. She emotionally explained how her lifetime of hard work was going up in smoke. At the same time, she showed how the L.A. local government had authorized outdoor catering tents right next to her business to feed the cast and crew on a film set. Who knew the virus is a threat at local restaurants but not from catered food?
Government officials making these shutdown demands have no skin in the game. They will continue to draw their regular direct deposit salary no matter what they do. They seem to forget that not everyone can earn a living from their laptops. As Waffle House CEO Walt Ehmer recently pointed out, “None of the people who make the decisions to shut down businesses and impact people’s livelihoods ever have their own livelihood impacted.”
Restaurant owners are not looking for federal handouts. They just want to pursue their right to earn a living safely and responsibly like everyone else. Instead of infantilizing them, the government should empower restaurateurs to use their best judgment and tacit knowledge of their premises to keep their customers safe.
Judges can act to rein in this power grab by local elected officials. A Los Angeles County judge recently ruled against local restaurant closures, noting, “By failing to weigh the benefits of an outdoor dining restriction against its costs, the county acted arbitrarily, and its decision lacks a rational relationship to a legitimate end.” This decision could apply in every jurisdiction across the country where restaurants have been closed.
Fortunately for restaurants, their employees and their customers, there’s a vaccine Christmas miracle on the horizon that will soon eliminate this COVID-19 grinch. If restaurants and their mainly female workforces can hang on for a few more months, they should flourish in 2021 as they benefit from Americans’ pent-up demand. Meanwhile, it is imperative that our public officials allow restaurants to re-open for indoor dining immediately and let people get back to work.
Jennifer Schubert-Akin is the chairman and CEO of The Steamboat Institute.
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