Governor’s task force looks at reopening Florida’s restaurants, hotels

Re-Open Florida Task Force to give recommendations to governor Friday

VIDEO: Florida’s tourism and hospitality industry should reopen from the coronavirus pandemic slowly, focusing first on getting residents to take in-state vacations before branching out to domestic and international travelers, a working group of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force was told.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s tourism and hospitality industry should reopen from the coronavirus pandemic slowly, focusing first on getting residents to take in-state vacations before branching out to domestic and international travelers, a working group of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force was told Tuesday.

The panel charged with recommending how to restart businesses shuttered by DeSantis’ stay-at-home order includes the presidents of Disney World and Universal Orlando, airline and airport executives, the heads of several restaurants and hospitality groups, construction and real estate executives and mayors including Jacksonville’s Lenny Curry. (See full list at end of this story.)

The group will be considering every type of commerce -- from recreation to retail to tourism to real estate to construction -- each day this week.

Since DeSantis said that since tourism drives Florida’s economy, Tuesday’s two-hour conference call began on that topic. President and CEO of Visit Florida, Dana Young, told the group that COVID-19′s impact on the state has been devastating, but leaders have a high-level plan for recovery.

Young said Floridians are in Phase 1 of the state’s plan -- which has different phases than those outlined by the federal government -- which is waiting on word to reopen.

Phase 2 kicks in when the stay-at-home order is lifted and a huge marketing push begins targeting Floridians, encouraging them to take in-state vacations.

In Phase 3, Florida will focus on attracting international and domestic travel, including both business and leisure travel.

Young said it’s critical that Floridians participate in helping to relaunch Florida’s tourism industry.

“Our marketing will aim to invoke a sense of “Florida Pride,” reminding Floridians they are blessed to live in one of the top vacation areas of the world," Young said. “We think Floridians will respond positively, especially since there is an existing drive to support Florida businesses. This will tap into this concept of state patriotism that Floridians already have in abundance.”

DeSantis told the hospitality subcommittee that while their businesses might be deemed non-essential and were closed or heavily restricted, they are essential to the state's long-term economic health and they must be reopened as soon as possible. He said if supermarkets can operate with restrictions, so could other indoor businesses that attract crowds.

“If people can fight over toilet paper at Costco, then I think there is a way you can run a restaurant safely,” the governor said.

Re-Open Florida Task Force to give recommendations to governor Friday

Restaurant executives told the group that fully reopening won’t be simply unlocking doors and turning on lights. Florida restaurants have been restricted to takeout and delivery service for about a month and their staffs and supplies are depleted.

Tim Petrillo, CEO of The Restaurant People, which operates 70 eateries under various names, told the group suppliers will struggle to meet demand as reopening restaurants place large orders simultaneously. He said getting employees back will also be difficult as his company has laid off 95% of its workers and many have moved away.

There will be dining room issues. Will restaurants be limited to 50% capacity, must they keep diners apart and will there be different rules for outdoor seating? Will masks and gloves for servers and disposable menus be required and how will such rules be enforced? It must be uniform statewide, Petrillo said.

“The clearer direction we can give to all establishments will be better for the industry so we don’t have some people not doing enough and other people going overboard,” he said.

Jose Cil, CEO of Restaurant Brands International, which owns Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons, told the group his in-restaurant employees are individually screened daily, answering health questions and their temperatures taken. Managers must keep a log.

Others called for detailed guidelines from the state, that ensures not only the safety of the customers but restaurant employees as well.

“How are we reopening? Masks? Gloves? Paper menus?" Petrillo asked. "A clear directive for all establishments so the standard is defined.”

Hotel and resort executives told the group they need to assure the public that returning to their tight, highly trafficked facilities is safe and that plans for phasing back in outdoor activities like tennis and golf differ from indoor pursuits like massages.

Philip Goldfarb, who runs Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Resort and other properties, said his rooms are being sprayed with hospital-grade disinfectant between guests and other commitments are being made to make sure the virus doesn’t spread.

“We want to illustrate to our customers and our employees that we are taking this very serious,” he said.

Goldfarb was among South Florida hotel owners on Tuesday’s call that criticized their local leaders for not opening up their beaches like Jacksonville.

“I’m hearing our beaches may not be open when we open our restaurants and resorts and cafes, and I think that’s a big mistake,” Goldfarb said.

As outlined Monday, working groups will meet each morning this week and an executive committee each afternoon. The task force is charged with coming up with recommendations by Friday afternoon.

“Our hope is that the recommendations are robust and comprehensive as possible, so that’s something the task force is doing,” Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez said. "But recognize we have four days to get to all of Florida, so recognize while we get to that specificity on some aspects of industries or business, that may not be the case for all of them.”

Members of the Re-Open Task Force Industry Working Group are as follows:

  • Dana Young, President & CEO, Visit Florida
  • Secretary Halsey Beshears, Secretary, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation
  • Secretary Kevin Thibault, Secretary, Florida Department of Transportation
  • Mayor Lenny Curry, Mayor, Jacksonville
  • Mayor David Kerner, Mayor, Palm Beach County
  • Sheldon Suga, Chairman, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association
  • Blake Casper, CEO, Caspers Company
  • Amy Schwartz, Owner, Bella Bella Restaurant
  • Collier Merrill, President, Merrill Land Company
  • Philip Goldfarb, President & COO, Fontainebleau Miami Beach
  • John Tolbert, President & Managing Director, Boca Resort and Club
  • Jose Cil, CEO, Restaurant Brands International
  • Josh D’Amaro, President, Walt Disney World Resort
  • John Sprouls, CEO, Universal Orlando Resort, Executive Vice President, Universal Parks & Resorts
  • Tim Petrillo, Co-Founder & CEO, The Restaurant People
  • Dev Motwani, President & CEO, Merrimac Ventures
  • Chad Harrod, CEO, Harrod Properties, Inc.
  • Walter Carpenter, Chairman, NFIB Florida Leadership Council
  • Len Brown, Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer, PGA Tour, Inc
  • Gary Lester, Vice President, The Villages for Community Relations
  • Glen Gilzean, President & CEO, Central Florida Urban League
  • Max Alvarez, President, Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, Inc.
  • Tom Crowley, CEO, Crowley Maritime Corporation
  • Joe Lopano, CEO, Tampa International Airport
  • Ted Christie III, President & CEO, Spirit Airlines
  • Rick Sasso, President & CEO, MSC Cruises
  • Maury Gallagher Jr., Chairman & CEO, Allegiant Air
  • AJ de Moya, Vice President & General Manager, The de Moya Group, Inc.
  • Paul Anderson, CEO, Port Tampa Bay
  • Ken Stiles, CEO, Stiles Corporation
  • Bob Flowers, President, C.W. Roberts Contracting, Inc.
  • Rob Kornahrens, President & CEO, Advanced Roofing and Green Technologies
  • Monesia Brown, Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations, Walmart
  • Cody Kahn, Owner, Holiday Inn Resort
  • Matthew Caldwell, President & CEO, Florida Panthers Hockey Club

About the Authors:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.