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Florida restaurants face uncertain future as COVID-19 regulations remain in place

'I’ve laid off probably over half my staff'
Gov. Ron DeSantis issues 'stay at home' order for Florida
Posted at 7:52 PM, Apr 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-08 19:52:27-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — We don’t yet know the full impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the state’s restaurants, but initial numbers aren’t good. Industry leaders expect they’ll get worse the longer virus protection measures stay in place.

The National Restaurant Association predicts the entire industry will lose $225 billion in the next three months along with five to seven million employees.

In Florida, restaurants and food service employ about 12% of the state. Eateries generate more than $50 billion in annual sales.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association was uncertain of the total impacts to restaurants here, but says many full-service establishments are struggling to change over to curbside and delivery. Those are the only options available to customers until Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive orders are lifted.

“Every day it changes,” said Jeri Madden, of Jeri’s Midtown Cafe in Tallahassee. “We’re implementing new procedures and doing what we can.”

Takeout and deliveries were just 2% of Madden’s business. The change has dropped sales to a point where she’s treading water until virus protections are eased.

“I’ve laid off probably over half my staff,” Madden said.

Even national chains are feeling the economic strain.

Geoff Luebkemann, Vice President of the FRLA, says he’s seeing major operations take drastic measures after losing up to 90% of their sales.

“One of our members operates a 350-unit national chain, full-service,” Luebkemann said. “Probably 10 days ago, they laid off every hourly employee.”

For now, Luebkemann says the association is focused on keep businesses open. Staff is working full-time to understand the two latest federal aid packages.

Members worry the assistance is a quagmire of complicated rules at a time when they need funds fast.

“We’re all just kind of hanging out until it does come,” said Madden. “I’m not going down without a fight."

Restaurants are just part of Florida’s pain, the hotel industry is hurting too. The most recent numbers showing COVID restrictions dropping revenue by more than $400 million compared to this time last year.