Restaurant owners at a standstill with capacity restrictions as 6-foot rule prevents adding tables
A new level on the COVID-19 dial means more changes for Summit County businesses, but not all owners are pleased.
On Friday, Feb. 26, the county officially moved to level yellow on the state’s dial, allowing nearly all businesses to operate under 50% capacity or up to 50 people. Under level orange, businesses that were not part of the 5 Star Business Certification Program had to operate under 25% capacity or up to 50 people.
Five-star businesses moved to level yellow two weeks prior, as the program lets certified businesses operate under restrictions that are looser than the county’s current level.
For five-star restaurant owners, the move to level yellow hasn’t meant much because they are still required to maintain 6 feet of distance between tables.
“We can’t push out the walls,” said Ken Gansmann, owner of the Mint Steaks and Seafood in Silverthorne. “We’ve got the same amount of tables. So if you go to 50%, it doesn’t do a thing.”
The 6-foot distance requirement won’t go away anytime soon if the state’s current restrictions remain. According to the state’s website, restaurants are held to the 6-foot distance rule throughout the dial.
Level blue sets a 50% capacity with up to 175 people, whichever is fewer, and in level green, the capacity is 50% with up to 500 people, whichever is fewer.
Judy Jordan, owner of Pug Ryan’s Brewery in Dillon, said the 6-foot rule means she won’t be able to increase capacity in her restaurant either. However, Jordan said a countywide shortage on workers means she wouldn’t be able operate at 100% even if it was allowed.
“If something was to happen today where they said, ’Go ahead and open like pre-COVID,’ we wouldn’t be able to do that,” she said.
As part of the move to level yellow, county officials are also debating whether to change a last call for alcohol, which is earlier than is required by the state. In level yellow, the state requires that restaurants have a last call on the sale and consumption of alcohol at 11 p.m.
In Summit County, the last call is set at 10 p.m., while five-star restaurants are able to have drinks on a table until 10:30 p.m.
At a Board of Health meeting Tuesday, Feb. 23, Summit County officials decided they would make a decision about the last call at the next meeting Tuesday, March 2.
The commissioners were in support of extending the last call for five-star restaurants to give them an added incentive to be in the program. Those restaurants won’t be able to operate under level blue restrictions until 70% of the state’s 70-and-older population has been vaccinated.
At a news conference Friday, Feb. 26, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said the state is at 67% of the 70-and-older population. The state likely will have an update on the five-star rule at its news conference Tuesday.
For Gansmann, the restrictions feel frustrating as a restaurant owner. Although a move to level blue won’t mean much because of the 6-foot rule, it’s hard to be at the mercy of others, he said.
“I’m all for everybody over 70 getting a shot, but on the other hand, you can’t go to their house with a gun and say, ’You will get a shot.’ Then we get punished for it,” he said about businesses.
Until the state says five-star businesses can move to level blue, extending the last call could give businesses some incentive to stay in the program and a reward for following the rules, Commissioner Tamara Pogue said.
“I’m still concerned about the conflict I’m hearing from restaurant owners that’s happening at the door with guests who don’t share our same philosophies on keeping our community safe, and the risk that we put our restaurant employees in when we do things that may exacerbate those conflicts,” she said.
However, public health officials worry a later last call could have restaurants turning into a party atmosphere where the virus is more likely to spread. Public Health Director Amy Wineland was not at the meeting but shared her thoughts with County Manager Scott Vargo.
“(Wineland’s) preference would be that, at least for the short term while we see what happens with winter break, we maintain the last call times in the same way that we have them currently rather than changing those to 11 p.m.,” Vargo said on behalf of Wineland.
Ultimately, Pogue suggested that the county allow five-star restaurants to have an 11 p.m. last call while the rest of the restaurants are subject to a 10:30 p.m. last call.
While she appreciates the effort being put in by the county, Jordan said she doesn’t expect an 11 p.m. last call to help all that much on the business side of things.
“Our customers generally do leave a little bit on the earlier side just to get up for early activities,” she said. “Generally, we’re not a super late night place so that last call wouldn’t affect us.”
She added that she understands the public health concern that it could turn into more of a bar scene.
“We don’t want to have to continually tell people to sit down and to stay away from each other,” Jordan said.
Overall, Gansmann would like to see business owners given more freedom to monitor themselves rather than be at the mercy of public health orders.
“If we didn’t know how to manage ourselves, we would have been out of business a long time ago,” he said. “Just let the proprietors go ahead and run their business.”
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