Would restaurants push to keep dining rooms open even if science showed the sales benefits would heighten health risks?
Let’s rephrase this one in starker terms: Would the business push profits over public safety? No matter how the question is phrased, it’s a discomforting one the business should answer carefully if it doesn’t want to emerge as the next tobacco industry, more intent on protecting sales than the health of guests and employees.
A fully formed answer wasn’t provided this week, but we were concerned about which way the industry seemed to be leaning—the key word there being “seemed.” A new study tarring restaurants and Starbucks-type places as “superspreaders” drew intense criticism based on a painstaking dissection of the methodology. Those faults are likely too subtle to sway a public that’s preoccupied with staying alive. Consumers hear that restaurants are denying the danger they pose, if the industry’s objections to the Stanford University report are heard at all. Whether the assumption is true or not, they see restaurants pushing for sales even if that means more people will get sick and die.
The public isn’t likely to be reassured by the civil disobedience that’s become a point of pride to many restaurants. They’re smugly flouting the safety measures imposed by health experts, as if they can scare away the coronavirus by daring it to strike. Those non-abiders could be ruining it for everyone by forcing another round of dining-room shutdowns, an option already on the