RJ Johnson

Bars and restaurants are back! You can eat indoor — with a lot of restrictions. 

You cannot sit at a bar or stand at one — actually, standing is not allowed at all. You need to be seated with a certain amount of distance between you and other tables. For restaurants this is going to be what they have already been doing. Single diners will end up at tables too large for them and tents and outdoor dining are encouraged. For larger venues this will be OK. Many bars have been operating at half capacity for many years now, and so the 50% mandate will not affect them too badly. For smaller venues like Van’s Dive Bar and Darwin’s Theory, they are looking at rules that will make it virtually impossible to conduct business. 

The COVID positive numbers did go down while we were on the 30-day rest period. There is no way to prove that it was because bars were closed, and restaurants were forced outdoors. Fishing was slowing down and so people were travelling less; tourism has not been happening to the same degree, and masks are becoming the norm rather than something that people need to be reminded about. The Alaska State Fair didn’t happen this year, so a potential outbreak source was avoided. 

The problem with the new normal is that it is new every day. We have no way of adjusting to what is about to happen to the industry because we are always informed with less than a week’s notice, and in many cases, bar staff do not have any say in the way things will be handled. The person serving your drinks and your food is the person on the front lines of this crisis. As mentioned in previous columns we, as service industry professionals, are used to trying to keep you safe and make sure that you have the best time possible. Customers need to follow these mandates and realize their role in allowing us to remain open. 

On Monday, bartenders and servers were getting used to the new mandates that had been put in place. This round is the strictest that we have experienced. With customers not able to order from a bar top this will slow down service. Customers are going to need to have a new level of patience as in some locations the bartender will be doing the job of server in addition to needing to sanitize, take temperatures, and maintain a visitor’s log. This is all before they even make a drink. 

The capacity rules won’t hurt most locations. The bar industry has been slowing down over the past decade and most locations would be happy to see 50% capacity even a couple of nights a week. One downtown bar owner said he could survive just fine at 25% capacity if it was happening every evening. For small locations this is going to prove to be more challenging. For other locations they will need to rearrange their layout since most seating was at the bar and now table service is required. 

Not every restaurant that was able to do outdoor dining will continue with this service but for others it is going to be necessary to be able to provide enough space for the customers that are coming back. There is confusion for many who work in bars why restaurants were able to provide this in the first place, but bars were not able to open up their patios or add tents to their parking lots for extended service. If the idea was merely to keep groups separated from each other and have better air flow, there are some businesses that only serve alcohol that could have maintained those standards over the past 30 days and maybe fared a little better. None of us claim to have all of the answers, but when a mandate feels like a direct attack on one section of an industry, it raises even more questions. 

People will be questioning the decision to not allow live music, and why people are not allowed to dance outside, as much as some have questioned the usefulness of masks and other things. At the end of the day we all have to follow the rules. It’s as simple as that. If the numbers start to rise, and if people refuse to follow the rules, we will be shut down again. 

As employees if we refuse, we put our employer’s business at risk. If customers refuse to follow the rules, we are going to have to make the choice not to serve them. There are questions, and anxiety, and feelings about all of the things that we have to do. We need everyone to cooperate and work together in order to stay open. There are other states with far stricter rules, and places in Alaska that are not regulating as strictly as this city is. We must mask up, sit down, and try to follow the rules so that we can have some fun. 

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