More than two months after the Baltimore riots and ensuing curfew, local restaurants are still searching for ways to rebound financially and recover lost revenues.
The lost profits for owners and wages for employees have already been incurred, but the challenge is combating the long-term impact of decline in business stemming from the April unrest, local restaurateurs say.
The GBC doesn’t have any specific restaurants it intends to patronize because the unrest’s impact on restaurants was so widespread in the city, spokesman Mark Guidera said.
From the curfew’s onset, bar and restaurant owners opposed the loss of key business hours. On the day it was announced, Liam Flynn, owner of Liam Flynn’s Ale House on North Avenue, posted a petition on change.org urging Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings Blake to lift the curfew for adults 21 and older. The petition received 2,500 signatures.
“With a curfew, you will do more damage financially to our bars & restaurants than rioters will do,” Flynn wrote. “In this month, we have to deal with taxes, license renewals, and more. Now you are cutting businesses’, employees’ ability to recover. We have insurance for vandalism, not loss of revenue.”
Rawlings-Blake lifted the curfew by the end of the week, but the loss of five nights of service had already made a financial dent.
“It just didn’t work out well for the businesses; it didn’t work out well for the workers. The only thing that did work out is how customers and regular Baltimore City residents came out in solidarity, basically went out partying early to help keep their favorite businesses open and thriving,” Flynn said.
Although there aren’t specific numbers on how much the industry has been affected, areas relying on tourists as customers, such as the Inner Harbor and Little Italy, seem to have suffered the most, said Marshall Weston, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland.
Employees who rely on tips, such as waiters, waitresses, and bartenders, have been especially hard hit, but even hourly workers could have had their wages disrupted when business slowed in the weeks after the unrest.
“Restaurants operate at such thin margins across the board. When you take even a small percentage of your business away for a prolonged period of time, it really puts stress on the restaurant to maintain employee hours,” Weston said.
The Restaurant Association is working with other local organizations to look for ways to increase tourism to the area, but in the meantime, individual restaurant owners should focus on using creative means to get new business from local customers, Flynn said.
For his bar, that involves appeals to healthier eating and drinking. “We’re trying to get local people to understand that eating healthy is better and make it more accessible, and even drinking craft ales is better” than the standard alcoholic fare, he said.