Many New Orleans Restaurants Aren’t Rushing to Reopen Dining Rooms

Customers line up outside Krystal on Bourbon Street as the city enters Phase One. Photo by Jenn Bentley

New Orleans officially entered Phase One for reopening on Saturday. Under the new rules, restaurants in the city are allowed to resume dine-in service with 25 percent occupancy, but only if they use an appointment or reservation system for contract tracing purposes.

However, many restaurants across the city have announced that they’re choosing not to reopen their dining rooms. While some will stay closed completely, others are continuing takeout and delivery services. As of May 16, there are over 50 restaurants that have announced they are not reopening dining service during Phase One.

It’s not just restaurants that are reluctant to get back to “business as usual,” however. As the city moved to reopen, members of the New Orleans Hospitality Worker’s Alliance held a press conference calling on the city to extend the Stay Home order until COVID-19 is more under control.

Members of the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Alliance hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall. Photo by Jenn Bentley.

Many of New Orleans’ hospitality workers are tipped workers making as little as $2.13 per hour. With restaurant traffic reduced to only 25 percent of capacity and a lack of tourists visiting the city some restaurant workers have legitimate concerns that returning to work could leave them unable to pay their rent. Though the law requires that employers make up the difference in the tipped wage plus tips and the state minimum of $7.15 per hour, many workers say that practice is rarely enforced.

In addition, the state legislature has failed to pass two separate bills that would have required employers across the state to offer paid sick leave for hourly employees throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Without this, workers fear they will have to show up to work even if they begin to show COVID-19 symptoms or face losing their homes or their jobs.

As a result, workers across the city have begun organizing and conducting labor strikes. At their press conference, the New Orleans Hospitality Workers’ Alliance encouraged any workers who want to organize to reach out to the group.


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