A restaurant owner, wearing a protective face mask, uses a meter to check social distancing inside a restaurant in Nice, France, on May 27, 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ERIC GAILLARD
A restaurant owner, wearing a protective face mask, uses a meter to check social distancing inside a restaurant in Nice, France, on May 27, 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ERIC GAILLARD

Restaurants across North Carolina opened their dining rooms for the first time in more than two months on Friday. Diners ventured out and foodies were excited, but as other states have shown after reopening, restaurant owners face a difficult path after the first wave of the hungry and faithful.

In Georgia, almost a month after being allowed to reopen, restaurants are still seeing reservations and walk-ins down an average of 85%, according to year-over-year sampling of data from OpenTable, a restaurant reservation service.

In Alabama, which allowed restaurants to reopen on April 30, reservations are down 70%. Other states, including those allowing restaurants to open at limited capacity, are seeing reservations down far beyond those capacity considerations.

It’s just one data point, but what does it tell us?

First, that economic damage and recovery from Covid-19 are not nearly as simple as flicking a stay-at-home switch. Coronavirus restrictions are far from the only obstacles to local businesses and economies beginning to recover.

Just as critical is a psychological barrier — the discomfort we have going out with friends or browsing in a retail store with an unseen virus lurking.

That’s why, despite videos showing throngs of customers at mall and restaurant reopenings, national retailers and industry researchers think many customers aren’t yet ready to shop at non-essential stores.

It doesn’t matter if a governor tells you to stay at home or a president urges a state to loosen restrictions. People are making choices based on what they believe about the virus — that it is aggressively contagious and has killed almost 100,000 Americans despite almost two months of restrictions throughout the US.

Americans’ apprehension is a natural reaction to that continued threat, and it’s an acknowledgment of what we still don’t know. It’s also a reminder that as we debate restrictions and reopenings, the loudest voices are not necessarily the most representative.

We give outsize attention to the most visible and outrageous, but North Carolinians and Americans are largely doing what they’re supposed to. They’re practising social distancing. They’re being careful. They’re flattening the curve./Raleigh, May 22

The News & Observer

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