It’s still 2020 so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that New Years Eve is canceled. This is essentially the result of the city of Austin’s new ordinance restricting food and beverage service on New Years weekend. And while the order disappointed Austinites, they won’t be able to dump this despicable year at their favorite restaurants, but it is local restaurant and bar owners and workers who are really suffering.
“The timing for this curfew is, frankly, cruel and comes from a city that has done what was absolutely necessary to support the hospitality industry,” said Jessica Sanders, owner of Hyde Park Gastropub Drink.Well and board member of Austin Food & Wine Alliance.
According to Austin and Travis County’s Dec. 29th ordinances, “food and beverage service will be provided from December 31st at 10:30 pm to January 3rd at 6:00 am by order of the city and county limited”. Although the order allows food and drink venues to be open between 10:30 PM and 6:00 AM on those days, they may only offer drive-through, pick-up, take-out, or roadside delivery services at. The venues may continue to offer a limited dining service outside of the specified curfew. Violations could result in a $ 1,000 fine, and Mayor Steve Adler says officials will enforce the order this weekend.
The move was prompted by mounting concerns about further COVID-19 transmissions and hospitalizations in the area after Austin and Travis Counties received Level 5 – the highest risk for the COVID-19 community – and Interim Medical Director on December 23 had reached and health authority Dr. Mark Escott warns the city to welcome 2021 in a state of emergency.
“The situation is critical,” said Escott in a press release. “We ask the public to stay home as much as possible and not meet with people outside of their households on New Year’s Eve. We ask people to only go to restaurants for takeout, delivery, or drive through. We are now witnessing uncontrolled, widespread transmission of COVID-19 across the community, especially in circumstances where masking and distancing are not possible, making bars and similar establishments extremely worrying this holiday weekend. “
The order has not come without criticism, both from other government agencies and from local owners themselves. Shortly after the city and county ordinances were passed, Governor Greg Abbott posted a tweet arguing that the so-called restaurant curfew was not legal.
“This shutdown order from Austin is not allowed. Period, ”said the governor’s tweet. “My executive order prevents cities like Austin from arbitrarily closing companies. The city has the responsibility to enforce existing orders and not to issue new ones. “
Trapped in the politically charged battle are restaurants and bars in the area that have essentially been exposed to business difficulties alone. The desolate state of affairs has resulted in numerous local restaurants being closed, establishments unable to provide consistent dining and bar services, and the many workers in the Austin hospitality industry without permanent jobs.
Sanders knows this misery all too well, as she had to adjust the range of services from Drink.Well several times in 2020, which resulted in the restaurant voluntarily discontinuing its dining service during Christmas week. The restaurant still offers roadside pickup and a limited delivery service.
“We voluntarily closed the dine-in service at Drink.Well last week, also because we could see the writing on the wall and knew that we would be under further pressure to restrict the service,” says Sanders. “I wanted to reduce the health and safety risks for my team and our guests. While I’m glad I got my way personally, I’m angry and heartbroken for my co-workers who tried to do what was best for their business only to make a decision in the eleventh hour and throw them into chaos to fall. “
While the pandemic has seen restaurants and bars find their way into this new normal and hospitality workers continue to grapple with job security concerns, Sanders admits that there is no easy solution, but insists it is Local restaurant industry, with more support and more focused, shared usage, could have fared better by instruction from government agencies as opposed to the political disputes that have ensued.
“This stalemate between Governor Abbott and Mayor Adler only creates confusion and mistrust in leadership,” she says, “which in turn has forced otherwise responsible restaurant and bar owners to make precarious public health decisions to keep their businesses liquid to keep.” . It’s just not right. We should all have closed earlier, but with more tangible support from those who have the power and the pockets. All of this could have been avoided. “