Restaurant Workers Brace for Devastation of Latest Round of Lockdowns


Waiters and bartenders are finding themselves out of work — again — as governors and local officials across the country shut down restaurants and bars.

And the timing, just before the holidays, couldn’t be worse.

Restaurant owner Greg Morena in Los Angeles County was trying to figure out his next steps after officials banned in-person dining for at least three weeks, beginning Wednesday.

But he was mainly dreading having to notify his employees.

“To tell you, ‘I can’t employ you during the holidays’ to staff that has family and kids, I haven’t figured that part out yet. It’s the heaviest weight that I carry,” said Morena, who had to close one restaurant earlier in the year and has two in operation in Santa Monica.

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Randine Karnitz, a server in Elk River, Minnesota, said her boss laid her off last week after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced that bars, restaurants and gyms would close for four weeks.

“Well, your last day is tomorrow. You don’t have a job. You can thank your governor for that,” Karnitz said her boss told her. She said her husband’s hours also have been cut at his manufacturing job.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday said he is limiting the number of customers in restaurants, gyms, salons, casinos, malls and other nonessential businesses to 50 percent capacity.

Most bars will be restricted to takeout, delivery and outside seating.

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Restaurant owners — most of whom underwent shutdowns in the spring and summer — are finding the new round of closures challenging as colder weather sets in.

Many are offering curbside pickup but also trying to hold outdoor dining, even if it means setting up shelters or heaters.

But in Los Angeles County, restaurants and bars are prohibited from providing outdoor dining beginning Wednesday. They will be limited to takeout and delivery.

Some are challenging shutdown orders in court, with little success.

On Tuesday, a judge rejected a request from a restaurant industry group to block the Los Angeles County outdoor dining ban.

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A day earlier, a California judge refused to temporarily restore indoor service at restaurants and gyms in San Diego County that were forced to move operations outside.

A federal judge last week declined to halt a three-week ban on indoor dining in Michigan after an industry association argued that restaurants were being treated unfairly.

The judge said that restaurants are unlike other businesses in that their customers have to remove their masks to eat or drink.

On average, the U.S. is recording over 172,000 new COVID-19 cases and 1,500 deaths per day. Almost 86,000 people — an all-time high — were in the hospital with the virus as of Monday.

Brittney Valles, owner of Guerrilla Tacos in Los Angeles, said she broke down Saturday as she realized it could be the last time — at least for a while — that she would see some of her employees.

It will be the third time she has had to furlough employees, and she was working Monday to develop a plan to keep as many employed as possible.

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