Cooper says 'new normal’ may mean restaurants opening at 50% capacity

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s all over the windows of uptown: “Closed because of COVID-19.” The restaurant and bar industry has been one of the hardest hit due to the shutdown.

Now, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is offering the possibility of opening the doors again, but on a smaller scale. He discussed what a “new normal” could look like at a press briefing on Wednesday.

He said when restaurants open again they may only open at 50% capacity.

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“You’ll see the lines backed up. It doesn’t come close to what we were doing on Fridays and Saturdays,” said Miketa Proctor, owner of LuLu’s Maryland-Style Chicken and Seafood.

Charlotte’s favorite kitchens have turned to curbside to stay afloat.

“We are in survival mode,” said Proctor.

At LuLu’s Maryland-Style Chicken and Seafood, the customers wait down the street for their food and the free bagged lunches for students.

“I’m thankful for the business that we do have,” said Proctor.

The Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance told Channel 9′s Genevieve Curtis food and beverage revenues in Mecklenburg County total almost $4 billion every year.

They estimate a 70% reduction since the shutdown.

“One in nine people in the Charlotte area work in hospitality,” said state Rep. Dr. Wesley Harris of District 105.

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If dining rooms reopen with half as many seats available, some restaurants could put some people back to work.

“I would honestly hire a few more people, if we could still do curbside, it would make a huge difference,” said Proctor.

But economist and Rep. Wesley Harris said the economic success of partially opened eateries depends on a few things.

“If people are still going to work from home for an extended period of time, you are going to see the uptown economy, in particular, is still going to be very sluggish. There just aren’t going to be a lot of people there,” said Harris.

And there’s still the issue of public safety.

“If I go out, will I be safe?” asked Harris.

During the coronavirus crisis, Lulu’s owner Joseph Davis said getting people in the door will depend on what customers will be comfortable with.

“It’s honestly going to depend on how people respond,” he said.

Mecklenburg County collects about $100 million in sales tax from restaurants and bars. Harris said that is going to be the next big question about how local governments and the state handle the shortfall.