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A man leaves a restaurant with a take-out order Thursday, March 19, 2020 in Atlanta. (AP) A man leaves a restaurant with a take-out order Thursday, March 19, 2020 in Atlanta. (AP)

A man leaves a restaurant with a take-out order Thursday, March 19, 2020 in Atlanta. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 8, 2020

Worries for restaurant owners are real, but post saying Georgia Gov. mandated reopening goes too far

If Your Time is short

  • Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s order said that restaurants can reopen if they follow 39 rules, including that employees wear face masks.

  • Many Atlanta-area restaurants have chosen not to reopen their dining rooms due to concerns about health and safety.

  • Many restaurants have sued their insurers after being denied business interruption insurance claims. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen many businesses sparked a social media dress-down from a restaurant owner in the Atlanta area.

John Gianoulidis, owner of the Kafenio Greek Diner, said Kemp’s order will hurt small businesses.

"Kemp mandates restaurants reopen, whether I reopen dining rooms or not. I file for business interruption insurance, it does not go through since I am ‘allowed’ to operate full capacity," he wrote in an April 20 Facebook post that has been reshared thousands of times and drew national media attention.

The owner then described a series of problems he faces, including that he still has the pressures to pay rent and unemployment insurance.

"Guys, this is about screwing the working class and small business, not about helping us," he wrote.

A Facebook post that repeated the restaurant owner’s post without identifying him was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Exactly what happens for any business owner’s unemployment insurance and rent is difficult to fact-check, because those are based on private contractual arrangements. The full impact on restaurants won’t be known for months, if not longer.

But we can fact-check if Kemp mandated restaurants to reopen.

"I’ve had people take me to task for the usage of the word mandate," Gianoulidis told PolitiFact in an email.

Kemp’s order said that restaurants "are hereby permitted to resume providing dine-in services" as of April 27. The order includes 39 restrictions, including that restaurant workers must wear face masks, limit the number of patrons, and discontinue salad bars and buffets. 

In other words, restaurants are allowed to reopen, as long as they follow the rules, but they are not required to. Restaurants still have a choice. 

Still, the hardships faced by restaurant owners like Gianouidis are real. Georgia processed about 1.4 million unemployment claims from March 16 to April 25. Roughly 30% were from the food and hospitality sector, state labor data show.

Industry data show that as of May 6 around 31% of restaurants have reopened their dining rooms, said Karen Bremer, CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association. 

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Whether it’s feasible for a restaurant to reopen under the 39 conditions depends on the size of the restaurant since seating is limited. The profit margin for a restaurant is between 4 and 6 percent, which means "if your sales are off by 50%, you are paying to be open to take care of customers and employ people. You are burning cash to do it," Bremer said.

Restaurants face a series of challenges to reopen. Former restaurant workers collecting unemployment may not want to come back. It’s harder to buy meat amid shortages. It takes time to empty kitchens of expired food. 

Following Kemp’s decision, more than 120 Atlanta restaurants announced they would not reopen their dining rooms due to health and safety concerns, though many are offering takeout. Gianoulidis said Kafenio Avondale is open only for takeout/delivery while his College Park location has remained closed. 

Gianoulidis told PolitiFact that the cost and hassle of reopening the dining room following all of the protocols "is not worth the risk or cost."

"At least 80% of my customers now are not wearing masks and acting like it is all over," he told PolitiFact. "It seems like since people are tired of being careful, most just gave up and are making believe there is nothing wrong."

Gianoulidis said that his claim under business interruption insurance was denied. Multiple lawsuits have been filed by restaurants and other businesses or nonprofits against insurers that say claims for business interruption insurance policies were wrongly denied.

The insurance industry argues that policies were not designed to provide coverage against diseases such as COVID-19.

"Pandemics are not generally covered by business interruption," said Lauren Anderson, spokeswoman for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. "Most standard policies list pandemics as an exclusion."

Bremer, with the Georgia Restaurant Association, said that the majority of restaurant owners she has spoken to have had their claims denied for business interruption insurance. She said after previous viruses in past years, more policies added virus exclusions. She has told owners to file claims anyway.

But even claims under policies without exclusions for viruses are being denied, said lawyer John Houghtaling. In addition to his Georgia clients, Houghtaling is the lawyer for the Business Interruption Group, which was formed by some of the nation’s top chefs to help businesses that have been denied insurance claims. 

The insurance "industry is taking a completely universal approach regardless of what the policy says," he told PolitiFact. 

Our ruling 

Gianoulidis wrote in a Facebook post that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp "mandates restaurants reopen."

Kemp’s order didn’t force restaurants to reopen, but it allowed them to reopen as long as they follow 39 conditions. Many have determined that they will not open their dining rooms, due to health, safety or financial reasons.

The challenges and pain faced by restaurant owners is real, but the specific claim about Kemp’s order mandating restaurants to reopen is wrong.

We rate this statement False.

Our Sources

Being Liberal, Facebook post, April 22, 2020

Kafenio Greek Diner, Accessed May 5, 2020

John Gianoulidis, Facebook posts April 20 and April 22, 2020

Gov. Brian Kemp, Executive order, April 27, 2020

Mother Jones, Reopening a Restaurant Will Take a Lot More Than a Governor’s Order, April 24, 2020

The Guardian, Politics drive Georgia's reopening gamble as coronavirus cases rise; The health risks of an early reopening could be even more risky than an economic one, economists say, April 30, 2020

Insurance Business Magazine, Six insurers face federal class action lawsuits for denying business interruption claims, April 20, 2020

Law360, COVID-19 Insurance Claims May Not Be Such A Lost Cause, May 1, 2020

Insurance Journal, Insurers Reject House Members’ Request to Cover Uninsured COVID Business Losses, March 20, 2020

WUSA9, Insurance companies are refusing to pay for restaurants' pandemic losses, April 28, 2020

Email interview, John Gianoulidis, Kafenio Greek Diner owner, May 5, 2020

Email interview, Lauren Anderson, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies spokeswoman, May 5, 2020

Telephone interview, John Houghtaling, managing partner and majority owner of Gauthier, Houghtaling LLP, May 5, 2020

Email interview, Candice L. Broce, Gov. Brian Kemp spokeswoman, May 1, 2020

Email interview, Kersha Cartwright, Georgia Department of Labor spokeswoman, May 5, 2020

Telephone interview, Karen Bremer, Georgia Restaurant Association, May 5 and May 8, 2020

 

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Worries for restaurant owners are real, but post saying Georgia Gov. mandated reopening goes too far

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