Starting Friday, March 20, Little Rock restaurants will be required to provide only take-out, curb-side, or delivery services for patrons.
In a Thursday afternoon press conference, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announced that the city was mandating that restaurant owners provide these services and that sit-down services would be closed throughout the city. This measure, he said, has been authorized by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state Health Department Secretary Dr. Nate Smith.
Closing sit-down services is part of the city’ efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus through the local population. Scott said the city has already seen instances of community transmission and that officials are currently uncertain the extent of the infection.
“This decision did not come lightly. It was heavily discussed among our team with restaurant owners. I’m extremely sensitive to the fact that this could lead to job loss to people in our community,” Scott said.
This measure is temporary and will be reevaluated on a regular basis. “We will assess every two weeks,” he said. “City administration will reevaluate this urgent need.”
Eliminating sit-down services will almost certainly have a negative impact on restaurants’ revenues, as Scott acknowledged. To alleviate some of the burden of this measure, the city is not requiring an additional business license for deliveries and is waiving the restaurant zoning restriction. As a result, restaurants can use additional space to recoup loss revenue.
“For instance, restaurants may begin using their spaces as specialty grocery stores, boutique food market and etc. so long as the maximum occupancy does not exceed 10 people at any given time,” he said. “This allows our local eateries the flexibility and creativity to generate revenue loss due to social distancing.”
He also encouraged restaurants to use their employees in creative ways to prevent large lay-offs. One way of doing this, he said, would be repurposing waiters as delivery workers for meal orders.
The City of Little Rock has already instituted a city-wide curfew from 12-5 a.m. every night to slow the virus’ spread. In a THV-11 interview, Scott said that increasing the length of the curfew is “on the table” and may be considered.
“Leadership is tough, and sometimes you have to make some tough decisions that won’t please everyone,” he said.