D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office released a health advisory Sunday mandating significant changes in operations for city restaurants and taverns amid the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, including suspending the use of bar seating and service to standing patrons, ensuring that tables occupied by patrons are separated by at least six feet, and indefinitely closing nightclubs and multi-purpose facilities.
The administration said the new rules are in compliance with the city health department’s prohibition on mass gatherings and aim to help achieve the public health goals of social distancing.
During a press conference the next day in front of the headquarters of The Foods and Friends nonprofit, Bowser expounded on the latest restrictions.
“We are making all bars and restaurants in Washington, D.C., ‘grab and go,’ carry-out, pick-up, or whatever you call it, only,” the mayor said.
While too early to accurately predict the changes’ full impact on the local economy, workers in the District’s service industry are already feeling the effects of the state of emergency for the city Bowser declared last week.
Tony Fowler, a freelance audio engineer and sound technician, said he has lost almost 90% of his upcoming monthly income due to event cancellations.
“My income revolves around live events, whether it’s concerts or podcasts or conferences or company parties,” Fowler said. “And over the past week, pretty much all live events have been canceled.”
Courtney Davis, a D.C. transplant who obtained a journalism degree from Howard University, said that though she holds a job in digital radio, the bulk of her income is from a second job in a serving position at Hill Country.
“I thought that [the radio job] would be the majority of my income, but working at a restaurant, I make more money,” she said. “I get paid weekly and I have more disposable income because I will get a paycheck within the week.”
Davis said she also appreciates the flexibility of the restaurant industry.
“Anything can come up,” she said. “I had the flu at the beginning of the year and I was out of both jobs for a couple of weeks and I was able to work at [Hill Country] to make up the money to pay those bills.”
At Hill Country, utensils and plates for food service have been converted into disposables, a decision sure to affect “back of the house” staff members such as dishwashers.
Davis said she already has seen cuts in her and other wait staff’s schedules.
“Our managers told us we’re moving into a new skeletal system,” she said before her Friday shift.
After her shift ended, Davis noted that sales for the night were about 50% less than usual.
“I’m shocked that [on a Friday night] we only have four servers on the floor and we never have that,” she said. “There’s usually at least six and up to eight if there is a private event.”
Jacob Hall, a bartender at both Chez Billy Sud, a French bistro in Georgetown, and The Player’s Club, a more volume-based establishment on the 14th Street corridor, said the effect is palpable.
“The changes are pretty much what you would expect given the state of emergency [in D.C.] and the White House being very public about it,” Hall said. “There are [far fewer] people in attendance — last night [at The Player’s Club] was the slowest Friday we’ve ever had.”
While Hall said his restaurant company has made some changes in terms of their health care policy to benefit the workers, he still has economic concerns.
“My girlfriend and I are able to moderate our expenses pretty well in the short term, [but] in the long term, three, four, five months from now, if nothing bounces back, what are we going to do with this?” he said.