By Anne Geggis
Area diners are joining the hew and cry the owner of a longtime Coral Springs restaurant is spearheading, asking area leaders to ease up on the pandemic rules that empty dining rooms at 10 p.m., nightly.
In just a week, nearly 5,000 people have put their name to a Change.org petition calling on leaders to relax the pandemic rules designed to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. That daily closing time might mean many restaurants won’t be able to keep their doors open much longer, warns Kevin O’Connor, who runs the Coral Springs’ mainstay, Runyon’s, that’s been in business for 35 years.
Another hour or 90 minutes open could make the difference for his restaurant and other local operations, O’Connor said.
“All the restaurant lovers have rallied behind us,” O’Connor said, describing the reaction to the Coral Springs Talk article on his restaurant’s pandemic struggles. “We’re asking for a little easing (of the rules), so our employees can pay their bills, and we can make it to the other side of this thing.”
He’s asking to keep the dining room open at least until 11 p.m. like neighboring Palm Beach County’s restaurant rules allow.
The occasion restaurant, with a $54 roasted prime rib, is not an early-bird kind of place, nor is it a pizza or wing joint where patrons take it out, O’Connor said.
“My average customer comes in at 7:30 and stays until 9 p.m.” O’Connor explained. “We can’t turn the table over for another party if we close at 10.”
The pandemic rules were designed to dissuade people from congregating late into the night, without masks because they are drinking and eating. The new coronavirus is spread primarily through person-to-person contact, and avoiding the infected —at least six feet apart — is only the sure-fire way to stay healthy.
The spike in cases soon after in-person dining was allowed in mid-May led South Florida government to restrict restaurants beyond the state pandemic rules that keep restaurants from filling beyond 50 percent capacity. They also put on earlier closing times than most of the state. Miami-Dade County restaurants have an early last call.
O’Connor says that early last call, combined with how restaurants can only fill to 50 percent capacity, is making it impossible to earn what he spends to stay open.
He’s already reduced the number of employees by about 20, so now he’s got 30 employees.
“There’s no reason that Walmart can’t be open 24 hours a day and there’s no reason that a restaurant that is following all the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommendations and more shouldn’t be allowed to be open another hour to an hour and a half to get that second seating of diners.”
He said he’s making sure customers stay to six feet apart, as CDC recommendations require. The onus should be on local code enforcement to make sure that restaurants are not packing them in.
“What difference does it make whether it’s 10 p.m. or 12 a.m.?” he said. “We should not be the martyr of places that are not following the rules.”
Commissioner Michael Udine said he understands O’Connor’s point and sees the shutdown rules as more fitting for places on the beach, where crowds tend to congregate late into the night, unlike the Northwest Broward suburbs.
“I intend to continue following up with this to see if there can be some kind of different accommodation,” Udine said. “A lot of businesses are on the brink, and we need to do something to help with this if it can be done safely.”
Udine said he did not vote on the stricter rules for Broward County restaurants that are also in effect in Miami-Dade County. Broward County Manager Bertha Henry drew up the rules in an emergency order. She was not available Thursday to discuss O’Connor’s issues further.
Spencer Melz, who runs Game Night, a Coral Springs arcade and eats place on University Drive, would join in to advocate for different rules. His business usually doesn’t get going until the hour that he’s supposed to shut down, he said.
“It takes a huge chunk out of my business,” Melz said of the current rules. He’d be happier if the rules allowed one more hour.
“Or if they just put it back to normal and let adults make adult decisions,” Melz said.
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- Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.
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