MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis and Shelby County businesses got the green light to reopen next Monday, May 4. But getting back to business won’t be easy with most of their employees laid off, their stockrooms and freezers empty,
Keeping the coronavirus at bay isn’t the only challenge small business owners face.
In Phase One of the Back to Business plan developed by local mayors and medical experts, restaurants can reopen their dining rooms at 50-percent capacity. But Memphis Restaurant Association president Ernie Mellor says many establishments won't be able to welcome any customers on Monday.
"It’ll be a challenge for a lot of folks,” Mellor told WMC Action News 5. “To get people rehired and get the supplies in, and the food and all the fun stuff in a matter of well, four days, but really two days with the way the food supply trucks run. Realistically, you would’ve had to place your food order Thursday afternoon for delivery Friday in order to have your food over the weekend to prep for Monday.”
Retail businesses can also reopen at 50-percent capacity. That's the same limit placed on grocery stores and hardware stores right now. Churches, gyms and public buildings like libraries can reopen at 25-percent capacity.
"We’ve come up with a plan,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “That in the short term, in Phase 1, is a plan that can best keep people safe and not exaggerate the spread of this disease too much.
All employees who come into contact with customers are required to wear masks. In restaurants, tables must be spaced six feet apart and frequently disinfected. Hand sanitizer should be readily available for patrons. All businesses must have signs at the entrance listing their COVID-19 precautions.
"We want them to read the signage that every restaurant will have,” said Mellor. “Are you sick? Have you been around anyone with COVID-19? Have you had a sore throat or fever or shortness of breath in the last 48 hours? And if you have any of those symptoms, please don't come in our restaurants. Go home. Go home. And we ask those same questions of our employees every day. We have to ask them. We take their temperatures as well. We want the public to be safe."
Mellor says one of the biggest obstacles for restaurant owners is getting employees to return. A lot of laid off workers are making more money now earning unemployment than they made working full time.
“They’re making as much as $21.87 an hour staying at home,” said Mellor. “You’ll call somebody to come back to work and they go ‘I don’t think I’m going to come back to work.’ And the reality is, ultimately, those unemployment benefits are going to be cut off if you turn down the job.”
Mellor says restaurant supply companies have to ramp back up to handle new orders from Bluff City eateries. And he says beef prices are at a 15-year high. There’s also a shortage of ground beef and a shortage of different cuts of pork and chicken because processing plants don’t have the employees needed to debone special cuts.
Returning to business in Phase One will be a slow process filled with logistical and financial hurdles. But Mellor says the restaurant owners he’s talked with are up to the challenge and looking forward to serving their customers again.
“We’ve always been under the health department’s rule, and we’re still under the health department’s rule," he said. "We’ve always practiced food safety and we’re here to make you happy, to serve you a good meal and give you a good experience so you’ll come back again.”