As thousands of bars remain closed across the country, new patterns of serving and enjoying drinks are emerging. Here’s how America’s grandest social tradition could change forever.
With Texas introducing one of the country’s most aggressive reopening campaigns last month, prolific Houston restaurant-bar owner Bobby Heugel faced a tough decision: Reopen sooner than many deemed safe, or potentially struggle to meet the tedious loan forgiveness requirements outlined in the government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses.
“Most of us would rather not reopen, but for the financial wellbeing of our staff, we’ve got to figure out a way,” Heugel said, noting that his six venues are in partial reopening mode. “It’s the attitude of the state, and it’s something outside of our control.” To meet new standards of social distancing and sanitization, Heugel and his team set about rewriting rules of service: “We’ve got a 20-page manual with new cleaning standards and guidelines for interacting with guests. We’ve moved tables. Our goal now is to learn some lessons and see what’s possible.”
This is the reopening path the American restaurant and bar industry is navigating as it becomes ever more clear that there’s no going back to the way things were. This means unprecedented measures—a regularly updated CDC page cites installation of barriers, staggered usage of spaces, and posted signage. And for some, it also means confronting the longstanding labor injustices that were laid bare as venues laid off entire teams. By now, some 40 million Americans, including many in the hospitality space, have sought unemployment benefits.