Pols, not restaurants deserve ire

If you are looking to be outraged, you’ll have to wait for the dessert course of this column. For starters, though, swallow your outrage over those complaining that restaurant restrictions during the pandemic are unfair. At least, resist predetermining boycotts of establishments that say they are going to reopen indoor dining next week regardless of whether the state-ordered shutdown is lifted.

Restaurants have been forced to adapt to more revisions to rules and restrictions than any other industry, in addition to shouldering the personal anxieties we all face. Restaurants, industry workers and their defenders might have legitimate concerns, or… beef.

One reason is that one-size rules and regulations have never fit the restaurant industry well. Take, for instance, the requirement that restaurants include calorie counts on their menus. At first glance, food industry objections to providing this basic health information seemed greedy and deceitful. It’s easy to imagine big-chain restaurant CEOs fearing the public’s response, “If they only knew how many calories are in their gigante mocha latte with whipped cream!”

The truth is this: Small, independent restaurants change their menus regularly and can’t afford to print and replace new menus every night. And they definitely can’t pay for food scientists to study every new dish. Then, major pizza chains said they can’t include a calorie count for every pizza they offer — the number of topping combinations would make the list thousands of lines long. Further, why would they be required to post calorie counts on menus in their stores when nobody walks into a Papa Johns or Dominos to order. But, forget about calorie counting. Navigating the global health pandemic presents countless more variables and complexities.

So, allow me to recommend for the main course: Consider how the smaller restaurants have thinner margins and less cushion to help them survive change. When the same safety protocols must be applied, it’s the small, independent places that are more likely to struggle than the chains.

It’s the family-owned, family-run kitchen for whom the business is more than a job or hobby but a livelihood that struggles most. It’s also more likely that these are the restaurateurs with personal ties to the community, extending that anxiety and frustration further. Some might have taken what little savings they had and invested in expanded outdoor seating, online ordering and takeout operations, or reconfiguring their dining room to allow more social distancing. And now, they have to sustain another shutdown.

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So, while the idea that some restaurants insist on remaining open to in-person dining might sound absurd, selfish and reckless, it’s possible that while the airing of grievances might sound political, it’s really a deeper, understandable frustration and anxiety.

Now, for your outrageous dessert: Blowhard politicians and anti-maskers perpetuating a false narrative of freedom — well, they deserve the pain and suffering that comes from catching COVID-19. That’s not my opinion. It’s a scientific fact that if they choose to ignore the recommended medical guidelines, if they catch it, they deserve it.

In particular, Kentucky Rep. Savannah Maddox and Sen. Damon Thayer, who happened to run into each other, both maskless, at Beans Cafe and Bakery in Hebron, Kentucky. Maddox and Thayer both told the Cincinnati Enquirer that they chose Beans for the explicit reason that they could eat inside, in violation of the statewide ban.

Maddox and Thayer… such arrogance and vanity are what masks were made for. Fortunately, Beans had its license to serve food revoked. Restaurant owners with that kind of disregard for the health of their customers and their communities should suffer severe consequences. And that’s how the system should work: Restaurants that flout the rules will be dealt with, without public outrage, shaming and threats of boycotts.

Instead, direct that outrage to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. Ask him why he hasn’t allowed a vote on a second COVID-19 relief package, even though the first one he likes to take credit for was designed to expire around July. After all, you can’t trash his takeout if he can’t dine-in. 

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