Franchot, Restaurant Association Push for Outdoor Dining

    Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), the self-appointed avatar of small business in Maryland, is making a pitch for restaurants to be allowed to begin serving customers outside on patios, sidewalks or streets that are closed to vehicular traffic.

    Franchot made the suggestion at the beginning of Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting. He followed up with a statement on Facebook.

    “While I do not believe we are ready to allow indoor seating and service, based upon all of the available data, I feel that we have to make this allowance in order to give our restaurants — the cornerstone of a hospitality sector that employs 458,000 people in our state — a fighting chance to survive,” Franchot wrote. “They just cannot make it on carryout and deliveries alone.”

    Franchot called for a state plan that allows for outdoor seating while adhering to social distancing practices, which the comptroller emphasized is considerably safer than indoor seating. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s Phase One for reopening the state kept restaurants shuttered, except for takeout and delivery service.

    “My fear is that if we don’t make this common sense policy adjustment sooner rather than later, we won’t have a restaurant industry left to save,” said Franchot, who, as he so often does, is branding his campaign with a hashtag:  #TakeItOutside.

    Shortly after Franchot floated his proposal, the Restaurant Association of Maryland, reinforced the idea that the state is ready for restaurants to reopen, starting with outdoor seating, immediately.

    “We strongly believe that permitting outdoor seating prior to Phase Two of Governor Hogan’s ‘Roadmap to Recovery’ plan is a smart, responsible approach allowing for the public to have a gradual return to dine-in options,” said Marshall Weston Jr., president & CEO, Restaurant Association of Maryland. “With Memorial Day Weekend a few days away, restaurants, especially those in destination locations such as
    Ocean City, will see a significant increase in customers. Allowing for outdoor seating will allow patrons to consume their meals in a safe and controlled environment, rather than receiving takeout and gathering in large groups in public spaces.”

    The association estimated that Maryland’s restaurant and foodservice industry has lost approximately $1.4 billion in sales — a $485 million loss in March and an estimated $915 million loss in April. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, 150,000 restaurant employees in Maryland have been laid off or furloughed and 45% of restaurants in
    Maryland are closed due to the pandemic with a projection that 25% will close permanently.

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    Josh Kurtz
    Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.