Bad Policy Has Caused a “Dining Disaster” in the District of Columbia

Marking the anniversary of ill-fated Initiative 82 in Washington, D.C. at the end of 2023 were serious consequences: lost restaurant jobs, lost tip earnings for restaurants’ servers and bartenders, and even a wave of beloved neighborhood restaurant closures.

In the Wall Street Journal, EPI’s Michael Saltsman and Rebekah Paxton write about the trifecta of factors contributing to an ever-worsening environment for restaurants in the District. Tip credit elimination has exacerbated economic woes for restaurants still recovering years after the pandemic, on top of rising crime downtown, and now two major league sports teams threatening to leave their home arena within city limits.

Read an excerpt of the op-ed below:

The restaurant scene in the District of Columbia is dying, and public policy is to blame. As recently as 2016, the nation’s capital received its first Michelin Guide and accolades from the country’s top food magazines. In 2018 the editor of Bon Appétit declared that Washington was “having a moment,” with some restaurants so popular that patrons would wait an hour to get a bite. But that was then. Rising crime and last year’s mandated increase in tipped wages have restaurateurs lining up to leave town.

In a December social-media post announcing the closing of Pursuit, a 10-year-old wine bar and restaurant, owner Adam Kelinsky said doing business in the city “is no longer sustainable.” Aaron McGovern and Arturas Vorobjovas shuttered both Washington locations of their seafood restaurant Brine in November, saying that the combined effects of the pandemic, the sputtering economy and “the spike in violent crime” had made it “impossible to survive.” Others focus on the second-order consequences of crime: With homicides in Washington up 35% in 2023 and car thefts up 82%, restaurant operators report that people are choosing to eat elsewhere.

Perhaps the sharpest blow was the December announcement that two of Washington’s major-league sports teams—the Wizards of the National Basketball Association and the Capitals of the National Hockey League—plan to leave for a more business-friendly environment in Alexandria, Va. The teams currently play at the Capital One Arena in Chinatown, where a once-vibrant restaurant scene catered to sports fans and concertgoers. The area has been plagued in recent years by robberies and shootings. Things got so bad that Ted Leonsis, owner of both teams, was forced to hire off-duty police to keep visitors to the arena safe.

Read the full op-ed at the Wall Street Journal website here.