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Restaurant owner and Trump appointee says social distancing not practical for restaurants

  • Social distancing policies: "The people making policy on this obviously haven't been in the business."
  • Restaurants open at half capacity? "The economics just don't work. My belief is we're either all in or we're not, because half of one restaurant is just a money loser."
  • Closed for the foreseeable future: "We're very disappointed. We're not open; we think we should be open."

Ray Washburne, restaurant owner and member of President Trump's task force of business leaders to reopen the economy, says social distancing isn't practical for restaurants.

"The people making policy on this obviously haven't been in the business," he told CBS News. Washburne, a Trump donor and member of the president's Intelligence Advisory Board, spoke to CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett for this week's episode of "The Takeout" podcast.

Washburne said that opening up restaurants so that they could serve customers at half-capacity would not be feasible, and that keeping restaurant workers and customers at a safe distance would be difficult to enforce.

"The economics just don't work. My belief is we're either all in or we're not, because half of one restaurant is just a money loser," Washburne said. "It just, practically, doesn't work."

Washburne also shared his frustration that some of his former employees were now earning a better wage from unemployment insurance than they had at his restaurant. Congress approved a relief measure last month which augments state unemployment insurance. Washburne predicted it would be difficult to rehire people when the worst of the crisis was over because "the government soaked them all up with unemployment."

He's also disappointed that Texas has extended a stay-at-home order in his state, meaning that his restaurants may remain closed to dine-in customers until June.

"We're very disappointed. We're not open; we think we should be open," Washburne said.

His company has received a loan as part of the Paycheck Protection Program, but he said the bulk of that money would go to paying outstanding bills.

Washburne said that he typically employs around 2,200 people at his Dallas-based chain of high-end Mexican restaurants, but he has furloughed approximately 1800 workers because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It was a very surreal time for us," Washburne said of the decision to temporarily close the restaurants. His takeout sales have increased because more people are staying at home, but Washburne noted that it's more expensive to provide takeout meals than to have people eat in the restaurant because of packaging costs.

"It's not like it's a profit-making venture; we primarily did it to keep people employed," Washburne said about expanding his restaurants' takeout capacity.

Listen to this episode on ART19

For more of Major's conversation with Washburne, download "The Takeout" podcast on Art19, iTunesGooglePlaySpotify and Stitcher. New episodes are available every Friday morning. Also, you can watch "The Takeout" on CBSN Friday at 5pm, 9pm, and 12am ET and Saturday at 1pm, 9pm, and 12am ET. For a full archive of "The Takeout" episodes, visit www.takeoutpodcast.com. And you can listen to "The Takeout" on select CBS News Radio affiliates (check your local listings).  

Producers: Arden Farhi, Jamie Benson, Sara Cook and Eleanor Watson
CBSN Production: Eric Soussanin, Julia Boccagno and Grace Segers
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