Business

Bar owners question whether outdoor seating push will help

Posted May 28, 2020 6:11 a.m. EDT
Updated May 28, 2020 4:12 p.m. EDT

— Lawmakers call an effort to allow bars to reopen with outdoor seating during the coronavirus pandemic a "lifeline," but some bar owners said they don't want it.

Bar owners have grumbled over the last week after Gov. Roy Cooper allowed restaurants to reopen at half capacity but ordered bars to remain closed for several more weeks in an effort to control the spread of the virus.

But they said Thursday that legislation moving through the General Assembly that would allow them to set up an outdoor seating area for up to 100 people – or 50 percent of their indoor capacity, if that is lower – isn't the answer.

"These people who are making these laws have never spent time whatsoever in a bar, because you come to a bar for a bar," said Brian McIntire, owner of High House Billiards in Cary. "It really doesn’t make a lot of sense for us."

McIntire said he can't move his pool tables outside, so his bar would lose one of its features. The bill also doesn't spell out how to handle other issues, he said.

"How do we control the bathrooms? Are they coming in to use the bathroom?" he asked. "Do they order from the bar and then go outside, or do we have to serve them outside?"

Amanda LaRoque, owner of The Goat in Raleigh, also finds the outdoor seating push misguided.

"We may be in a worse situation than it was before because they feel like they’ve sent us a lifeline, and it’s so deflated, and now the urgency of getting us open is gone," LaRoque said.

Like McIntire, she said the bill produces more questions than answers.

"If I open and then a storm comes in, what do I do with these people? Do they leave, and I have open tabs," she asked. "What do I tell staff? What if it’s 4 o’clock when we are supposed to open, and it’s raining [and] it’s supposed to rain for the next two hours? Do I keep people on call?"

Still, LaRoque said, some business is better than none, so she is preparing her parking lot.

"There’s so many bars that don’t have outdoor seating, and I think this only throws a lifeline to truly maybe about 20 percent of the bars that have any kind of capability of having some place outside," she said.

McIntire said he isn't part of that 20 percent.

"I would be able to have just about 68 people outside, and that doesn’t seem logical at all," he said. "I can’t afford to have that much seating out and just not use it after the shutdown. That would be money that we wouldn’t spend."

More than 60 bar owners across the state are planning to file a lawsuit over Cooper's restrictions, demanding that their businesses be allowed to reopen fully.

The manager of Big Daddy’s Roadhouse in Fuquay-Varina said her business took all the necessary precautions – separating seating, hanging plexiglass across the counter and getting gloves and masks for employees. But since Big Daddy's is licensed as a bar, it was shut down when it tried to reopen on May 22.

The manager said she believes it’s discriminatory to let restaurants open that serve alcohol but not lets bars open that also serve food.

"It’s been frustrating for us because we went through so many measures to take precautions," she said. "We put up plexiglass, everything. We have a huge outdoor seating area and areas taped off so everyone can social distance."

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