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Miami-Dade Indoor Dining Restriction Creates Uncertainty For Restaurant Industry

Natalia Clement
An outdoor seating area on Giralda Avenue in Coral Gables

Restaurants throughout Miami-Dade County closed their indoor seating today, following Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s order earlier this week. The county enacted this new restriction to combat the spike in COVID-19 cases. 

Restaurant owners and workers were stunned, as many have complied with guidelines in order to stay fully open. 

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Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid said he and other municipal officials were not informed of the county’s rollbacks prior to Monday’s press release.

Cid wears two hats: policymaker and small business owner. He owns Mayor’s Cafe in Miami Lakes. He empathizes with other owners who invested their time and money to follow the county’s regulations. Many have taken precautionary measures, such as installing plexiglass barriers and training employees on health and safety.

He also worries about how workers will be impacted.

“They were out of work the first round, now they came back,” he said. “They complied with all the proper regulations. They’ve done all the right things and, to no fault of their own, now they’re being told again, ‘Hey, you’re without a job.’”

The Miami-Dade County League of Cities Mayors Coalition passed a resolution Thursday disapproving of the order. It calls for the consultation of city mayors and industry leaders in making future decisions based on data. Cid said the county has not presented municipalities with evidence that links the rise in cases to restaurants.

Nick Sharp, the owner of Threefold Cafe in Coral Gables, echoed the mayor’s skepticism.

“What evidence, what advice is being used to close down restaurants? Is this part of an overall strategy that’s going to make the difference and help?”

Sharp also criticized the county’s unclear messaging. At first, the order implied that only delivery and takeout would be permitted.

“What changed from the Monday morning when it was [first] put out to the afternoon when now outdoor dining is allowed?,” Sharp said. “It’s just about transparent information. So we can plan our business going forward.”

Customers were also confused. Sharp said many patrons called to ask if they were still open. He worries the order will affect their perception of how safe restaurants are moving forward.

“People aren’t looking for the evidence – they’re only seeing the headlines,” he said. “It takes us weeks and weeks to build the trust back of the public. Something for which we didn’t break in the first place.”

Sharp is finding innovative ways for his employees to stay working. He canceled third-party delivery services to increase profits and create delivery jobs. Threefold Cafe is also delivering groceries and basic necessities, like toilet paper, to customers.

In response to the uncertainties of the pandemic, restaurant owners have leaned on each other for support. They’re sharing resources, contacts, and marketing strategies in different group chats and meetings. Sharp said a few of the restaurateurs are in direct contact with the mayor’s office, voicing the concerns of the larger group.

“We’re trying to get a feel for what’s coming,” he said. “Should we hold on and lose money for three months or should we close now?”

Carlos Garcia is a waiter at Juvia in Miami Beach. After the shutdown in March, Garcia had no income for two months. His employer held his last paycheck, and the state’s overwhelmed unemployment system made it difficult for him to file for benefits. He had to rely on his savings. 

Garcia returned to work about a month ago. He said his limited schedule, along with few tourists coming in, adds to the instability. He hopes the county will enforce the restriction long enough to return back to normal.

“We should’ve been going back to work now or even later,” he said. “Just so that we can move past it altogether instead of having that instability, that roller coaster up and down.”

Restaurants will have to wait until the county’s positive cases drop to 5 percent or less to open indoor seating.