Tag Archives: restaurants

Is MoCo an Anti-Restaurant Island?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM) has gone on the warpath against Montgomery County, claiming that its restrictions against indoor dining have made it “an island all by themselves.” RAM points out that MoCo is now the only jurisdiction in the region to prohibit indoor dining and is seeking to have that policy overturned.

Are they right?

RAM blasts MoCo on Facebook.

RAM bases its case on MoCo’s declining COVID statistics. Its president told WTOP, “When you’re really looking at all the metrics that Montgomery County claims to be watching, we see good news and good signs.” And it’s true that the county has seen improvement on some measures according to its COVID dashboard.

RAM notes MoCo’s declining COVID stats.

But there are two caveats here. First, any improvements are coming from huge peaks. For example, the county’s COVID case rate has been falling for a couple weeks but it is still higher than it was in the spring, when restaurants were last shut down for indoor service.

MoCo’s COVID dashboard shows recent progress in case rate but it’s still high.

Second, RAM is comparing MoCo to other jurisdictions, alleging that the county is unusually harsh on restaurants. Well, if MoCo were unusually overrun by COVID, it might be justified in being more restrictive. Let’s test that.

The table below shows five data points from two sources. Johns Hopkins University compares counties across the nation on 14-day case rate per 100,000 residents, inpatient occupancy and intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy. The table shows how MoCo compares to twelve other major jurisdictions in the region on these measures. The State of Maryland tracks 7-day case rate per 100,000 residents and test positivity rate for its 24 local jurisdictions. The table shows how MoCo compares to six other large jurisdictions in the state on these measures.

On the three stats tracked by Johns Hopkins, MoCo is above average on inpatient occupancy and below average on ICU occupancy and 14-day case rate. On the two stats tracked by the State of Maryland, MoCo ranks 5th out of 7 peer jurisdictions. In other words, MoCo is not an outlier. It has not been hit unusually hard by COVID in comparison to the rest of the D.C.-Baltimore region.

That calls into question whether the county’s now-unique prohibition on indoor dining is justified. It also occurs in the historic context of the restaurant industry’s long-time frustration with the county’s unique wholesale monopoly on liquor sales, which is not currently the industry’s biggest problem but has nonetheless damaged the county’s reputation among restaurateurs. MoCo should consider revising its restaurant restrictions if it continues to make progress on its COVID metrics. If not, its reputation as a tough place to operate restaurants will only continue to grow.


Restaurant: My Staff Will Not Wear Face Masks

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last night, The Grille at Flower Hill, a restaurant in Gaithersburg, posted a complaint on Facebook about the county’s health department enforcing the county’s social distancing and mask rules. Specifically, the post said, “Let me be very clear…my staff will not wear face masks while working here at the Grille. If that bothers you then please dine elsewhere and please try to find something more important to occupy your time such as volunteer at a nursing home or soup kitchen. Whoever you are that filed the complaint, you need to take a good look in the mirror and try to find some real meaning in your life.”

In response to huge pushback, the restaurant doubled down. “You are all missing the very premise of my post. Look at it this way, if you don’t like what is on TV or the radio…change the channel. You all act like i am physically forcing people to come into my restaurant. Every single person that has dined here had a choice and they all chose to eat here knowing full well the staff was not wearing masks.”

Here is just a small sample of the reaction this post generated.


Never, ever giving you or any other firm owned by you my business again.

You’re gonna do a good job at burying your business with this post. It would’ve been better for you to keep quiet about your stance on facemasks rather than post your ignorance for all of Facebook to see and share. Good luck in the coming months.

Publicly, I’d like to thank the health department for doing their jobs. You should be shut down.

Sorry to hear you are making this decision. We used to eat there every week. Not anymore.

Every major media outlet in the area knows about this post. Hope you love bankruptcy!

Will never eat here ever. Ever. EVER. That is if you keep your license.

Besides the total disregard for human lives, this message is totally unprofessional.

Thanks for being candid on how you don’t care about the well being of your staff and patrons.

You just lost my business and I will try to spread the word to any one who will listen regarding your lack of safety for your customers and staff!

Wow. Beyond irresponsible and inconsiderate. What is wrong with you folks?

You need science in your life.

I feel so sad for your employees.

I would not eat at a place that doesn’t care about my health.

I’ll let some investor friends know that a discounted restaurant space will be on the market soon. They’ve already built in disinfecting costs.

I hope we get a Chipotle in that spot instead.


Even if the Facebook post is deleted, the damage has been done on Yelp.

Want to bet where the county’s health department will be today?


Council Urges Hogan, Franchot to Extend Alcohol Carryout and Delivery

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a letter spearheaded by Council Member Andrew Friedson, the entire county council is urging Governor Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot to extend the ability of restaurants to sell alcohol by carryout and delivery after the current state of emergency is lifted. Many restaurants are hanging on for dear life and news that the state’s unemployment rate has tripled only underscores how tough it will be to sustain consumer spending. We reprint the council’s letter below.


Franchot: Reopen Outdoor Seating at Restaurants

By Adam Pagnucco.

Comptroller Peter Franchot has called for the reopening of outdoor seating at restaurants. His statement on Facebook is reprinted below.


At the start of today’s meeting of the Board of Public Works, I called for the State of Maryland to begin the process of allowing our restaurants to serve customers OUTSIDE on patios, sidewalks and even streets that are closed for vehicular traffic.

While I do not believe we are ready to allow indoor seating and service, based upon all of the available data, I feel that we have to make this allowance in order to give our restaurants – the cornerstone of a hospitality sector that employs 458,000 people in our state – a fighting chance to survive. They just cannot make it on carryout and deliveries alone.

This new outdoor seating policy would have to be done with true adherence to social distancing and other preventative best practices, and we know that it CAN be done. To state the obvious, outdoor seating is far safer than indoor seating, and my fear is that if we don’t make this common sense policy adjustment sooner rather than later, we won’t have a restaurant industry left to save.

In short, let’s do it safely, responsibly and soon. Let’s #TakeItOutside.


Hucker, Elrich Stop Takeout Tickets

By Adam Pagnucco.

Within minutes of seeing our post on parking tickets being issued for restaurant takeout pickups, Council Member Tom Hucker asked county officials to stop the practice. When Hucker announced this on Facebook, County Executive Marc Elrich replied, “I just told DOT to stop enforcement until they have put in place pick-up zones around all the restaurants. We don’t want cars parking and not moving, at least as long as some things are open, but you can’t be ticketing people trying to pick up food after having encouraged restaurants to maintain as much service as they can through carry-out and delivery.”

All of this happened in less than an hour.

Elrich and Hucker deserve praise for acting with such speed.

Hucker’s Facebook post, along with Elrich’s comment, is reprinted below.


MoCo Issues Parking Tickets for Takeout Pickup

By Adam Pagnucco.

MoCo’s restaurant industry, which is currently limited to takeout and delivery, is in crisis.  Many elected officials at both the state and county levels are asking constituents to patronize the county’s restaurants to keep them afloat.  And yet, one prominent restaurant – the Limerick Pub in Wheaton – is complaining that customers who have picked up takeout food from the pub have been issued parking tickets.

Can the elected officials and other county officials reading this get a handle on this issue?  Let’s all agree with Limerick that now is not the time for aggressive ticketing.

Limerick’s blast email to its customers is reprinted below.


MoCo’s Stunted Restaurant Industry

The following is a guest post by Adam Pagnucco:

One of the dimensions to the current debate about Montgomery County’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) that has not been empirically explored is its impact on the county’s restaurant industry.  Restaurant owners have many complaints about DLC and some have said that entrepreneurs will not open new establishments here because of it.  However, several urban districts in the county have lots of restaurants that seem to be doing just fine.  So what’s going on?

Let’s investigate.

One of the many programs run by the U.S. Census Bureau is the Economic Census, a very detailed look at industries by geography that is updated every five years.  Among the statistics collected by the Economic Census are the number of establishments, the sales of those establishments, and the number of employees.  Below are the combined totals of two industry segments – drinking places (industry code 7224) and full-service restaurants (industry code 722511) – for 22 jurisdictions in the Washington-Baltimore region in 2012.  This data does not include limited service restaurants (like fast food places) that often do not sell alcohol.  Data on drinking places for Fauquier and Stafford Counties and the Cities of Fairfax, Falls Church and Fredericksburg is not available because it does not meet the reporting thresholds established by Census.

Restaurant Stats
MoCo is a significant player in the region’s restaurant industry.  It has 11% of the region’s bars and restaurants, 10% of sales and 10% of employees.  But it also has 13% of the region’s population.  MoCo matters because of its sheer size.  What happens when the restaurant industry’s statistics are presented on a per capita basis?  Using Census population data for the five-year period of 2009-2013, here’s what that looks like.

Restaurant Stats per Capita
In terms of establishments per thousand residents, MoCo (at 0.65) is not terribly different from the regional average (0.73).  MoCo’s figure is also close to the two jurisdictions which most resemble it in education and income levels, Fairfax (0.66) and Howard (0.61).  But on the next two measures, MoCo falls short.  MoCo’s restaurant sales per resident ($789) are 20% below the regional average ($989).  They are also below Fairfax ($900), Howard ($930) and Loudoun ($826).  MoCo’s restaurant employment is just as bad.  MoCo’s figure (14.2 restaurant employees per thousand residents) is 23% below the regional average (18.4) and lags most other places in the region, large and small.

Why could this be happening?  It’s not because of low income levels – MoCo does just fine on that measure as do many jurisdictions in the region.  It’s not because of comparative tax burden.  The District of Columbia’s Chief Financial Officer finds that MoCo’s tax burden is not out of line with its neighbors.  Do MoCo residents simply not like going out to eat?  Are we a county of shut-ins?

Frank Shull, the Chief Operating Officer of RW Restaurant Group, which owns several county restaurants, explained why the industry is lagging when he appeared before the County Council last spring.  According to Bethesda Magazine:

A partner in the Robert Wiedmaier Restaurant Group testified Friday that Montgomery County’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) is “an evil empire to most people in the business.”

In testimony before the County Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control, Frank Shull said poor selection, bad service and high prices keep Washington, D.C., restaurateurs from opening restaurants in the county.

“A majority of good operators in D.C. will not come into the county,” Shull said. “We have this discussion all the time. Restaurants don’t want to because they don’t want to deal with the DLC.”

Jackie Greenbaum, owner of Jackie’s Restaurant and the Quarry House Tavern in Silver Spring, detailed the challenges of dealing with DLC when she signed our petition to End the Monopoly:

I own 2 restaurants in Montgomery County, both well known for the breadth of their beer, wine and liquor lists. The difficulty in creating and maintaining these lists because of the county controlled system is extraordinary. It adds hours of unnecessary labor to my payroll costs, diminishes the quality of my beverage programs through the inconsistency of stock, unavailability of products and errors in delivery, and drives up the cost of the products we sell–which must either be absorbed by us (therefore diminishing our profits) or passed on to the consumer resulting in higher menu prices. This system causes all but the most intrepid restaurant owners to dumb down their offerings because it’s far far easier and ensures Montgomery County will never compete with DC in terms of the quality and creativity of its restaurants.

What would happen if MoCo’s restaurant industry were average in size relative to its population?  In other words, how big would the industry be if it had 0.73 establishments per thousand residents, $989 in sales per resident and 18.4 employees per thousand residents, which are the averages for the Washington-Baltimore region?  Extrapolating from the data above, the county would have 82 more restaurants, $198 million more in sales and 4,184 more employees.  All of this would create more tax revenue for both the county and the state.

How do we get there?  Let’s be honest and acknowledge that there could be many factors governing the size of the county’s restaurant industry and DLC is just one of them.  But in the opinion of the folks who actually run restaurants, DLC is an important impediment to their doing business.  The County Council has proposed reform, but in the opinion of the two largest alcohol distributors in the state, it won’t work and they won’t participate.

Restaurants are not just businesses.  They are critical cultural assets.  People decide where to live in part because of the abundance and quality of food options.  This industry is a large part of our quality of life.  By unleashing its spirit of entrepreneurship, we enrich all of society.  So how do we do that?

Here’s one way.  End the Monopoly.