Restaurants unable to add tables despite change allowing full capacity |

Restaurants unable to add tables despite change allowing full capacity

Spacing and staffing issues continue to be a concern

A Highside Brewery employee serves guests Tuesday, March 23, in Frisco. Summit County restaurants certified under the 5 Star State Certification Program were able to open to 100% capacity last week, but they still have to keep 6 feet of spacing between tables. Restaurant owners and managers cite the 6-foot rule as the reason for why they are unable to accommodate more guests.
Photo by Ashley Low

Summit County restaurants operating under the 5 Star State Certification Program were given the green light to open at full capacity Wednesday, March 24. As expected, this hasn’t allowed for much of a change for local restaurants.

At the county’s virtual town hall last Wednesday, Summit County Environmental Health Manager Dan Hendershott acknowledged that the change likely wouldn’t mean much for many local businesses.

“We know that this is a more limiting factor in most of our restaurant facilities … because they were struggling to get to 50% capacity even with spacing tables and patrons 6 feet (apart),” Hendershott said.

Blue River Bistro owner Jay Beckerman said that as a small restaurant, the bistro hasn’t seen a change in capacity since moving to level orange.

“We’re kind of stuck at 35% until that 6-foot distancing is lifted, and that’s when we’ll start seeing gains,” Beckerman said. “So we’re really, really happy to see things progressing along the dial because that gets us closer to seeing that distancing either reduced or eliminated, but until it is, we don’t really see any advantage yet.”

Beckerman said that while the change doesn’t affect him, if it can benefit other establishments, it will help the restaurant group as a whole given difficulties guests have had finding available tables during their vacations.

“The guest is the one that’s getting the brunt of this more than anyone,” Beckerman continued. “People are so frustrated coming into town not being able to get a reservation, seeing places like ours booked out two to three months in advance, that having additional capacity is good for the group and good for our guests. I think that, looking at the long term, the frustration the guest is having could have years of effects for this county, and I think anything that can help quell some of that frustration and accommodate our guests better will be great for our group moving forward.”

Dillon Dam Brewery General Manager Kim Nix said that while the large restaurant could add a few tables as a result of the capacity change, she doesn’t have the staff to accommodate it.

“We’re not going to change anything,” Nix said. “We could maybe put some tables in the area where we closed off one of our sections to do to-go (orders), … but right now we’re just struggling with staffing.”

Nix said that if she added another table section she’d have to add another server for every shift, which she isn’t able to accomplish due to staffing shortages across the county. Nix noted that the area where more tables could be added is being used to fill to-go orders, and Dillon Dam doesn’t want to stop offering that service because there are still people who don’t want to eat out at restaurants. Instead, Nix said the brewery is waiting until the weather gets warmer so that they can open the patio for full-service dining — hopefully with more staff available.

Currently, Dillon Dam has five servers per shift, while during pre-pandemic times about 10 servers would be scheduled per shift. Nix said she’s told all of the managers at Dillon Dam to hire as many people as possible so that the brewery could start getting back to normal staffing levels heading into the summer. She said that normally, there are 70 to 80 employees on staff at Dillon Dam, but since the pandemic hit there have only been 40 to 50 employees due to reduced indoor capacities.

“As we gain capacity we’re going to have to hire, and if there’s no workers out there to hire … we’re going to be stuck,” Nix said. “… I’m looking forward to getting back to normal, but it’s hard to really see it when you don’t have the base of applicants that you usually have.”

Sean Goodale, General Manager of Breckenridge Distillery, said in an email that the distillery’s dine-in capacity has essentially been limited to 25% since the 6-foot rule was put into place. Regardless of the capacity allowed in restaurants, Goodale explained that until the required 6 feet of distance between tables is reduced, the distillery won’t be able to accommodate more guests.

The sentiment was echoed across Summit County eateries. Both Vasyl Sichenko, a manager at Red Mountain Grill, and Joyce De La Torre, owner of Frisco restaurants Bread + Salt and Bagalis, said that increasing restaurant capacity to 100% while keeping the 6-foot rule doesn’t change anything for their restaurants. Sichenko said Red Mountain Grill will have to keep operating around 50% with about 12 tables in the dining room.

Eric Mamula, owner of Downstairs at Eric’s, also said in a text message that the dial change didn’t do anything for the restaurant’s capacity. He explained that the big change for his restaurant was when five-star restaurants’ capacity changed from 50% with up to 50 people to 50% with up to 175 people. Mamula said that with 6-foot spacing, Downstairs at Eric’s can accommodate about 75 people.

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