Local restaurants continue to face challenges after receiving permission to reopen for in-house dining. Having experienced shutdowns and takeout-only operations, businesses were eager to rearrange operations to comply with social distancing mandates despite extra logistics planning.
Most restaurants took advantage of the outdoor patio seating that was first approved for on-location eating.
“That’s been essential to keeping things going,” said Don Savage, owner of Sparetime Tavern. He stated that the police and fire departments showed special support by helping restaurants determine measurements and capacities and make sure that the new spaces conformed to the safe-dining mandates.
“They’ve been nothing but helpful,” said Savage.
Changes in Indoor Seating
“There’s a sign at the front door and another when you walk in that masks are required,” said Emily Rottman, manager of Emma Krumbee’s Restaurant and Bakery. “We have sanitizer stations available and we have our tables spaced six feet apart in one of our sections. Down on the floor, every other table is closed off.”
Social distancing is also required among staff members. Many restaurants have been forced to furlough employees and deal with the labor shortage.
“I cut back on my staff as well as hours of operation,” said Krissy Koniarski, owner of Johan’s Sports Bar and Grill. “I even did a break between lunch and supper because that tends to be a down time for the restaurant industry.”
The remaining staff is required to wear masks and continually sanitize.
“In the restaurant industry, we’ve always practiced safe sanitizing skills, so it wasn’t that big of a challenge,” Koniarski said. “We already follow those practices.”
Some restaurants have switched to disposable dinnerware in the hopes of preventing germ spread.
“Instead of having baskets, now we have to do paper boats,” said Savage. “We’ve had to do throwaway ketchup and mustard packets and salt and pepper packets.”
The downside to disposable products is the expense it adds to operations.
Supply shortage also continues to be an issue, with beef remaining one of the most difficult products to obtain. Savage reported that beef prices rocketed to seven dollars a pound when restaurants reopened, although that price has slowly dropped back toward its normal selling range.
“Right now, I can’t get any Jose Cuervo, Crown Royal, or Coors Light cans,” added Savage. “We were out of bottles for a few weeks, but now we have bottles back.”
“There’s stuff that you used to be able to order with no problem, and you can’t get anything now,” said Ryan Neisen, owner of Neisen’s Corner Bar.
In response, some restaurants have minimized or updated their menu to avoid potential shortages. Sparetime Tavern has temporarily suspended certain specials due to increased inventory costs.
“It taught me to be more of a frugal business owner,” said Koniarski, who cut back on her menu.
Number of Patrons
Once restaurants were given the go-ahead to open, many voiced concerns that lack of traffic would remain an issue.
“We were wondering if customers would come back,” said Rottman. “We were wondering if people were scared to come because of COVID.”
Neisen stated that he tries to encourage traffic by advertising their compliance with state regulations.
“We let them know that we’re following all the guidelines for social distancing and we’re safe,” said Neisen. “That’s about all you can do.”
While visitor numbers continue to be in flux, many restaurants have reported willing patronage by the community at large.
“We’re doing really well,” said Rottman. “Sales are up compared to last year. A lot of people have come out to support us.”
“The community is very supportive of us,” Savage agreed. “They give us a lot of business. I can’t thank them enough.”
Although the restaurant has been reopened, it is uncertain at the moment whether Emma Krumbee’s pick-your-own orchard will be available to the public.
“We are in talks with the department of health and the department of agriculture about whether we can have that this year,” Rottman said. The restaurant is expected to release a statement regarding the orchard by mid-September.