Colorado’s one-size-fits-all rules for reopening restaurants cannot work. Gov. Jared Polis should immediately revise or rescind them.
Consider Casa Bonita, the legendary Lakewood restaurant made world-famous by an episode of “South Park.” With 52,000-square-feet, the business seats up to 1,100 patrons surrounded by caves and a make-believe Mexican festival of actors, music and cliff divers.
The reopening guidelines make no distinction between the state’s largest restaurants and a Taco Bell. The rules make no accommodation for resorts, hotels and convention centers that serve food in ballrooms with 150,000-square-feet of space or more. The guidelines leave the industry confused about food service at bowling alleys, poolside and other unique settings.
“Indoor dine-in service can be held at 50% of the posted occupancy code limit and a maximum of 50 patrons,” says the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s new “Guidance for Restaurants and Food Services” document.
For typical fast-food shops, the guidelines allow full capacity with social distancing. A business the size of Casa Bonita would operate at 4% of customer capacity to reopen and comply. That would not pay the bills.
We are to believe up to 50 people at a fast-food joint keeps the virus at bay, but 51 in a large service restaurant — with room to serve 500, 1,000 or more — would cause a second wave of COVID-19.
The one-size-fits-all approach limits parties to no more than eight in one family or group, no matter the size of the restaurant or its tables. This makes celebrations of weddings, bar mitzvahs, anniversaries and other common events almost impossible at hotels and resorts with large dining facilities designed for these occasions.
Hoteliers don’t know how they are supposed to feed their guests three meals a day while obeying a 50-person restriction in each restaurant regardless of available space.
The guidelines tell restaurant managers to force their customers to wear face masks unless they are eating. All must wear them when they enter the restaurant or walk through a part of it. The state expects restaurants to enforce this, putting them in conflict with patrons paying for hospitality.
There is nothing hospitable about mask shaming and tossing people out for disobeying a mandate of questionable value to the cause of public health. Some people, such as those with severe asthma and other respiratory conditions, cannot wear masks and should not be ostracized for trying to eat.
Our economy cannot flourish under narrow authoritative mandates that eliminate risk. Countless businesses with a variety of evolving operating models make up a market that serves limitless, growing, and ever-changing needs and desires of consumers. Central authorities cannot micromanage this ecosystem each time a crisis arises. We can’t afford a “cure” that kills the patients.
Buyers and sellers have solved problems in this country for hundreds of years without heavy-handed government guidelines directing their every move. Consumers living in fear of COVID-19, unwilling to incur any level of risk, should not go to restaurants or hotels. They should stay home and protect themselves, just as people who live in mortal fear of drunken drivers should stay off the roads.
Colorado needs the restaurant industry for more than entertainment. It employs about 10% of the workforce state government counts on to pay income taxes. In recent years, Colorado restaurants generated nearly $350 million annually in state sales taxes alone. Losing a chunk of this industry will harm schools, health care, transportation, and everything else we hold dear.
Gov. Polis should revise these guidelines to account for the diversity of restaurants that can provide safe dining for far more than 50 patrons at a time. He should do away with rules, such as mask mandates, that put businesses in conflict with their customers.
Even better, the governor — who understands the value of deregulation — should lift these restrictions. Allow business owners and customers to manage and assume the risks associated with the voluntary activity of dining out. Restaurants don’t survive by making people sick. We can be assured they’ll take reasonable precautions, or consumers will shun them.
Restaurants are not the same and should not be treated as if they are. What works for McDonald’s might destroy some of Colorado’s most iconic, locally owned establishments. The one-size-fits-all approach is a recipe for failure. Polis should fix these guidelines or lift them before much of the industry fails.
This content was originally published here.