Chicago and New York City have added COVID-19 fees and closely monitored guests, but are the new measures helping or hurting tourism?
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New York City Adds Restaurant Fee Option, Chicago Too
New York City has implemented sanctioned a new COVID-19 fee restaurants can tack on to customer bills to offset their capacity restrictions. I am torn on this. On one hand, the fee is optional so restaurants do not have to adopt it, and many are hurting. Guests want to help so this lets them help without mandating the higher prices.
On the other hand, COVID-19 is no more the guest’s fault than restaurant owners. Tacking on a new fee on top of the same food and reduced service seems like paying more for less. Business owners had support funds available to them while employed consumers did not.
It’s not an issue of wearing a mask, either. Some restaurants are well-intentioned but misfiring on execution. One restaurant in a major hotel chain discontinued bread service due to COVID-19 but would gladly bring out ordered entrees with bread on the plate. Is there a good reason why bread couldn’t be brought out on a plate before the meal too? Of course this is ridiculous, but blaming COVID-19 was just an easy way to shore up cost savings. The same restaurant was happy for patrons to sign a bill with a pen used by other staff members and guests, but a plate of bread is an infection source?
As always, in a capitalist society, if you don’t like a fee the restaurant is tacking on to your ticket – eat somewhere else.
Some Chicago restaurants implemented a similar restaurant fee. While I haven’t seen the same official order from the Windy City, it appears restaurants are applying it themselves.
Assumption of Guilt
New York has been widely criticized and praised for its exclusion of residents or visitors from other states; at one point the list was 68% of states representing half the US population. Chicago has been less publicized with regard to its restriction list, but both the city of Chicago and Cook County list 16 states that are not welcome. Some restaurants as recently as yesterday hadn’t updated their lists, unnecessarily excluding some residents that had been officially cleared by Chicago.
If visitors of those areas are caught out and about in Chicago, the fine is $700/day.
A reader has been COVID-19 tested three times to comply with other travel orders, has antibodies, no current symptoms, and is not from an elevated risk category had to prove several times that they were permitted to visit. It wasn’t just the hotel that wanted the aforementioned reader to demonstrate they weren’t from an excluded state. There was an assumption of guilt and general looks of disdain (in their opinion) from hotel employees to wait staff to city residents.
Though the reader was “masked up” and followed protocols without hesitation they were still assumed to be guilty until proven innocent.
New Visitors, Bad Impressions
The reader shared that they were showing her friend, who had never been to Chicago, around the city. A city in which our reader visited for another purpose just weeks before. More ill-advised policies seemed to greet the pair everywhere they went which included a Chicago food tour purchased from Airbnb.
One spot the pair visited in their own hotel claimed that while they were welcome in the rooftop bar/restaurant, they could not stand to take pictures – at their own table – due to COVID-19 restrictions.
It left an impression on both of them that despite the city allowing and even welcoming visitors (so long as they were not from an excluded area) almost none of the businesses or staff wanted them there. They wondered why they should visit, spend money, pay COVID-19 charges to “help out” struggling business owners when they were clearly unwanted guests.
Everyone is stumbling through this coronavirus crisis and not everyone can execute it well. But cities that re-open before they actually want to deter future business opportunities. Both the reader and their travel companion indicated they may never go back to the Windy City based on their experience. They come from areas that have the same CDC protocols in place. They have been (safely) welcomed elsewhere, Chicago wasn’t so kind. The city seemed more than happy to accept their money, as long as they didn’t come with it.
That’s not how it works, not for them, not for me, and not for many others. If you’re not ready to open – don’t. But if you do open, you have to be open for business.
What do you think? Are New York, Chicago doing right by visitors or wrong? Would you go back to a city that was unkind in the pandemic after it is over?