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Glass half full: Bars reopen at 50 percent capacity

Kentucky bars and restaurants were allowed to double their capacity last week, but that means they are still operating with half as many customers as they were allowed to have before they were closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some Winchester bar owners and managers say they are getting by with the restrictions on how many customers they can have, but it isn’t ideal.

The bars downtown early Saturday evening were busy but not crowded.

Most of Wildcat Willy’s customers were drinking outdoors on the deck, and Abettor Brewing Company had a few couples and friends out front on the patio. Only a few customers were inside.

At Engine House Pub and Pizza Parlor, there were more people inside because there was an Elvis Presley impersonator, and they were doing trivia and karaoke. People were lined up at the bar, and there were a few at tables inside the dining room and a few more outside.

Chad Walker, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Lindsay, said he had noticed an improvement in business since restaurants and bars were allowed to increase their capacity from 25 to 50 percent on Monday, Aug. 10.

“I think we’ve seen lunch stay about the same, and dinner has picked up a little bit,” he said.

And 50 percent capacity is OK, he said.

“The maximum we can have is 50 people,” and that many in such a small space is “really full,” he said.

“Our goal is to stay at about 50 percent all the time,” he remarked.

The outdoor seating this summer, he said, has helped sales. It’s not ideal because the sidewalk is right next to heavily congested Lexington Avenue, and there’s loud traffic noise, but some people feel more comfortable eating outside, and he’s afraid he’ll lose a lot of his business when the weather turns colder.

Walker said restaurant owners get “conflicting messaging” from public officials.

“It seems like it changes weekly, so we’ve got to stay on our toes as far as what is allowed,” he said.

The governor’s guidelines, for example, say that no one can sit at a bar, but Walker said they have “been back and forth on that.”

“We’ve sent notices to the governor, and we’ve talked with our own lawyer, and because we’re at a minimal capacity, they don’t seem to have an issue with it,” he said.

The restaurants and bars have to stop serving food and alcohol at 10 p.m., and customers must be gone by 11.

Normally, bars are busiest after 10 p.m.

Other rules include keeping tables at least six feet apart, requiring guests to wear masks except when they’re seated, and they aren’t supposed to stand or walk around except to go to the restroom, and when they do, they are supposed to wear a mask. Walker said the rules help protect his staff as well as the customers, and the employees around many people in the course of their shift.

“We’re trying to keep this little bar safe,” he said.

Walker thinks the business will do OK with reduced capacity even if the restrictions last a while.

“We could hang in there because we’re so small,” he said, but big restaurants that seat 250 people would be hurt by having to operate at half capacity. Most restaurants need to have at last 60 percent, he said.

John Howard, general manager at Abettor Brewing Company, said there is “clearly a difference” wth the bar operating at only 50 percent.

“We can only have 23 people inside. That makes staffing a challenge,” he said.

But they do a good business on the patio when the weather is warm.

“We’re cruising along right now,” he said. “Obviously, we would prefer to be operating at full capacity if we can do it safely, but we’re doing pretty well.”

One thing they can’t do is big events like the “night market” they had planned on having this summer, which would have brought in an estimated 400 customers, several food trucks and vendors, and live music.

Asked whether losing outdoor dining in the winter will hurt, Howard answered, “Only time will tell. There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen.”

The manager wouldn’t say whether or not he felt the restrictions were necessary.

“We’ll follow the mandates” regardless of what they they think about them, he said.

Most of their patrons understand they’re just enforcing rules handed down from authorities, and they are compliant, he said. They haven’t had many incidents with people not wanting to do what they are required.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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