Thanksgiving 2020: A Warning to Restaurant Owners
The holiday season is almost upon us, and with cases of Covid-19 continuing to increase, it appears that, like everything else in 2020, the pandemic will change how we normally behave. A recent study found that people are planning on keeping gatherings smaller this year, and that 30% of hosts plan on taking temperature checks at the door to help prevent the spread. However, others are journeying out to celebrate the day at one of the many restaurants that offer Thanksgiving dinner in South Florida. While it is important to support restaurants who have been struggling during the pandemic, it could also create a big problem for restaurant owners trying to stay afloat in these tough times.
Bars and restaurants have been doing their very best to ensure that their patrons stay safe while visiting their establishment. Most restaurants have coronavirus disclaimers posted, require masks and some even request employees and customers to sign waivers, but there are questions about whether those waivers will actually protect business owners from a liability lawsuit. Extra safety measures such as moving tables six feet apart, enforcing masks and keeping a low capacity have allowed many restaurants to stay in business after quarantine restrictions were lifted. But Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving may be the ultimate test.
Larger parties and special holiday service will undoubtedly lead to more customer and staff interaction. Turnaround times may be tighter, leaving a limited amount of time to disinfect tables and chairs. Add holiday “spirits” into the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Unlike other days of the year, Thanksgiving is a memorable one. It is also a solid reason to leave the house, even if you haven’t in weeks. You know what that means? Contact tracing will be much easier to do, and that means it could be much more easily traced to a specific date, time and place.
So what is the best thing for restaurants to do? Everything they possibly can.
Possible negligence claims related to COVID-19 in restaurants and bars may turn on the foreseeability of the condition, the adequacy of a warning, and the reasonableness of the safety measures the premises institutes to avoid transmission of or exposure to the virus. Although it is very difficult to prove where or when someone contracted coronavirus, Thanksgiving may change that. As a result, the causation element may be available to prove that attending your restaurant is directly connected to a staff member or customer contracting Covid.
Restaurant owners must take ALL precautions necessary to provide a safe environment for their patrons and employees. Staff should wear masks at all times – front and back of the house. You must keep all surfaces clean, not just tables and chairs. Door handles should be sanitized inside and out. I even suggest hiring a bathroom attendant who can continually clean and enforce a hand washing policy. It is imperative that restaurant owners show that they are doing everything they can to protect their patrons and employees. If a lawsuit were to prove that that they were being negligent in any way, there is a possibility they could be held liable. And although there is yet to be a lawsuit filed against a restaurant in the State of Florida, Thanksgiving could all change that. And that would be the last thing the industry needs right now.