In late Spring, after a year of restrictions, stay at home orders, mask wearing – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the fully vaccinated could, for the most part, stop wearing masks indoors. This was the moment many of us were waiting for, in particular restaurants who were eager to welcome patrons back in their droves. You could nearly hear a nation-wide collective sigh of relief – a year’s worth of anxiety melting away. Without hesitation the industry appeared to roar back to life. Dining rooms filled back up with friends and family who could once again enjoy dining out – in the warmth of the indoors! But just when we thought we were heading at a steady pace away from pandemic world, the Delta variant decided to show up.

Delta variant throws US restaurant industry into further uncertainty
By now, anyone who’s everyone knows that the delta variant of COVID-19 is highly infectious. So infectious that businesses now fear that all strides made up until now threaten to throw restaurant owners, workers, and diners alike into further uncertainty. According to research, 9 out of 10 restaurateurs are worried the delta strain of the coronavirus will derail the industry’s comeback; they are concerned that the upsurge in COVID-19 cases will trigger another wave of business restrictions and shutdowns. Not surprisingly, restaurants that barely survived, what is now dubbed as the Alpha wave, are considerably anxious that this time round, COVID will finish them off.

The arrival of the Delta variant is certainly disheartening and the daily rise in case numbers even more so. As such, there is a growing sense of dread that Delta will be an unstoppable force. But we need to remember we are not alone in this. Many countries, in particular those in the EU have been dealing with the Delta strain for some time. Looking at how they have been managing and continuing to open up society in the face of rising case numbers should give businesses here a reason to be more optimistic.

“We needn’t be fatalistic about the Delta variant”
The Delta variant which was first discovered in India, has been making its way around Europe since January. It now accounts for up to 90% of all cases there. While the strain was somewhat suppressed in the Winter and Spring months, case numbers practically went into free fall once EU member states begun lifting restrictions.

In late June, the Netherlands pushed ahead with its reopening. Face masks were abandoned in almost all places and young people were encouraged to go out again. Cases did soar, jumping to their highest levels since December – however the relaxation did not lead to a notable rise in hospital admissions. Similarly, looking at the UK, who went ahead with Wimbledon and hosted the Euros, again did see a significant rise in cases following such large events but again they did not translate into a big increase in hospitalizations or deaths. “The UK and Netherlands should be a counsel against despair… We needn’t be fatalistic about the Delta variant” Bill Hanage, Epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In addition, despite the rise in case numbers across the UK and EU, no one country has reverted back to the draconian lockdown stay-at-home restrictions that were in place back in 2020. There is a couple of reasons for this; vaccination rates in many states are high; there is enormous COVID fatigue and Governments do not have the appetite to reimpose restrictions. Instead they understand that this time round that the variant can be contained through more subtle changes in behaviour than a complete lockdown.

Yes, some bars and restaurants, if you want to dine indoors, are required to follow certain measures. These measures include anything from proof of vaccination to simple mask wearing when not seated at the table. Many establishments here are concerned that similar advice given by the CDCs on resuming mask wearing in indoor public spaces will deter and divide patrons, resulting in added strain and possible financial losses. However, the overall message from experts who are watching Delta waves in Europe should be one of reassurance – there is huge pent-up demand by consumers to get back to normal, and irrespective of waves and measures in place, the vast majority of diners remain undeterred about venturing out.