Summit County restaurant owners frustrated by in-person dining closure
DILLON — With Summit County moving into the state’s new level red phase in response to a spike in novel coronavirus cases, restaurants will be forced to close indoor dining.
The new restrictions, which take effect at 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22, have left some restaurant owners frustrated with the short notice and potentially devastating effects on their employees and businesses.
Summit County will be among 15 counties moving into the new phase in the coming days, according to a news release from the state. The move initially was supposed to take place Friday, but Summit County officials requested the state push the move to Sunday to give businesses more time to prepare.
After the new public health order takes effect, indoor dining will close and restaurants can offer only takeout options, including curbside service and delivery, or outdoor dining with groups from only one household. Restaurants also will be subject to an 8 p.m. last call for on-site dining.
TJ Messerschmitt, president of the Breckenridge Restaurant Association and owner of Fatty’s Pizzeria, said he feels “extremely sad” for his distributors, purveyors and staff. Messerschmitt, who also operates Relish, said the restaurant is having to call everyone and cancel reservations for the next two weeks, which includes Thanksgiving. With the current 25% capacity restriction, Messerschmitt said the restaurant has been full nearly every night.
“It’s really interesting to me that they’re closing restaurants but not closing lodging,” Messerschmitt said. “That’s really, really interesting. So the experience that these people coming to town are going to have, how is that going to hurt us in the long run? The virus is a real thing, but obviously people are still coming here because they want to get away. They want to get out and they’re not afraid of it. … I think you’re just creating an economic impact that is not the right way to go about it.”
Messerschmitt said he’ll keep some of his staff employed for takeout business but that he understands it might make more sense for some of his staff to go on unemployment rather than work reduced hours.
Mountain Lyon Cafe owner Rob Lyon said he anticipates the change in restrictions will reduce his business by about 80% as most of his business is dine-in. He is considering leaving two opposite doors of the space open, creating the wind tunnel effect desired for outdoor tent seating. Lyon is hoping that could qualify the restaurant as outdoor seating and that customers would still come, just wearing more layers than they usually would.
Lyon disagrees with the decision to close indoor dining and said people who are vulnerable or more concerned with the virus should stay home. He thinks businesses should be allowed to stay open for people who are willing to take the risk.
“I really don’t think it’s right that they should shut down all these businesses,” Lyon said. “I think if people want to go to them, let them go. It’s their own risk. … I just don’t see the difference between eating in an outside tent and eating indoors. I think it’s unfair to everybody. It’s our rights. … I’m very upset about it, and I don’t think they should have the right to shut down my business whenever they want. It’s our livelihood, and I have a lot of employees that they’re not going to be able to make it.”
Restaurants have been operating at 25% capacity for the past two weeks, and Lyon said he thinks that created a safe environment. To increase safety, Mountain Lyon Cafe has been using a walk-up ordering system instead of servers taking orders at tables to limit contact.
“If you can maintain the rules of social distancing at all the tables, you’re wiping down everything — if you maintain that, I don’t see why (restaurants) can’t stay open,” Lyon said.
Lyon added that he believes smaller, local businesses will suffer more than chain restaurants with existing drive-thru service.
Barb Richard, marketing manager at Dillon Dam Brewery, said the brewery already has seen the effects of the increase in COVID-19 cases with people leaning toward takeout food and drinks.
Richard said the brewery has responded by beefing up its to-go services — including staff dedicated to pickup orders, a phone extension for takeout orders and a new pickup window — and is “ready to roll with it.” Dillon Dam also recently added fire pits outside the brewery to create a safe space for people waiting for tables or to-go orders.
“We’ll try to pivot as best we can, and then of course the big question is, ’How long? How long is this going to last?’” Richard said.
Although the closure of indoor dining will have a huge effect on the business, Richard said it’s different than the shutdown in the spring because there are more people around with ski resorts open.
“It’s extremely disappointing, but safety is No. 1,” Richard said. “… We’re very happy to do our part for safety. Whatever we can do to try to get back to a level where we can get open and can host guests and keep the business and people employed would be an amazing thing, so we can we tough it out now so that December looks a lot better.”
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