Telling a bar to stop serving drinks at 10 p.m. is about as frustrating as asking a deli to stop serving sandwiches at noon.
Not only are sales at their peak, servers make their best tips.
But Utah bar owners said Monday they understand the need for a new state health order which — among other things — requires all bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.
The mandate is in effect for two weeks — until Nov. 23 — and establishments can stay open later than 10 p.m. and continue to serve food and nonalcoholic beverages.
While the mandate probably won’t have much effect on restaurants, bars will take a hit, said Junior Richard, general manager at The Cabin in Park City
“We’ll have to completely rethink the wheel,” he said. “We’ll have to encourage people to go out earlier and try to mitigate the damage throughout the day.”
The new state order, announced Sunday by Gov. Gary Herbert, includes a statewide mask mandate — face coverings already have been required in 23 of the state’s 29 counties — as well as restrictions on high school and college sporting events, after-school activities and limiting alcohol service in bars.
On Monday, the governor tweaked the order, extending the 10 p.m. alcohol restriction to all restaurants, since many also have bar establishments inside.
Under the new order, bars and restaurants must continue to seat patrons 6 feet away from other parties; servers must wear masks at all times; and patrons must wear face coverings anytime they are not seated or actively eating or drinking.
Richard, like many restaurant and bar employees, is conflicted. He knows something has to be done to stop Utah’s surging COVID-19 cases, but is worried for co-workers who have already seen their shifts cut and tips decrease during the pandemic.
“On Friday and Saturday, from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. closing time, is when the bar makes 75% of its sales,” he said. “But it also is when it can get crowded and it’s more difficult to keep people apart.”
He’d like to see consistent regulations for bars and a long-term plan to help the industry survive. “Government has spent time figuring out how kids can play football,” he said, “but it’s ridiculous that they haven’t thought out what to do with bars."
During the next two weeks, many bars owners say they may adjust operating hours or offer more food promotions — like weekday brunch and dinner deals — to entice earlier attendance. If there’s entertainment, it will likely start around 7 p.m instead of the usual 9 p.m.
“It’s only two weeks, so we’ll suck it up and adapt....again,” Salt Lake City bar owner, Dave Morris, said Monday during a Zoom call with other members of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association (SLARA). “We’re staying hopeful and staying open and maybe when this is all over the strongest will still be standing.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, health officials have said that bars and nightclubs pose a high risk for the spread of coronavirus as they bring large groups of people together, sometimes in small spaces.
Alcohol consumption lowers inhibition and people forget to wear masks or maintain physical distance, said Jeff Oaks, Salt Lake County Health Department’s Food Protection Bureau Manager.
“The thinking was," he told SLARA members, “if we limit alcohol, we can increase adherence."