Restaurants are ramping back up as coronavirus lockdowns lift in U.S. states. As they do, they are assessing both customers’ willingness to come back and how many workers they will need in kitchens and socially-distant dining rooms.

One of the toughest calculations is proving to be just how far to go in staffing back up. Restaurant owners say they have little sense of how many consumers will feel safe to eat out again, and under what circumstances. They are also contending with employee health and safety concerns about returning to work, and the reality that many who come back are likely to earn much less than they do now on boosted unemployment benefits.

The expanded unemployment benefit signed into law in March provides laid-off or furloughed workers an extra $600 a week through July 31. Combined with state unemployment, the money is more than what the majority of restaurant workers earned before the shutdowns. Nationally, median hourly pay in food-service occupations was $11.65 in 2019, or $466 for a 40-hour week.

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