Bars, lounges continue to adapt to changing guidelines
Food and drink establishments seem to have pivoted countless times to stay afloat amid the state’s constantly changing COVID-19 requirements.
Now breweries, wineries and distilleries must require patron reservations and a 90-minute time limit, with an 8 p.m. cutoff, if they do not serve food.
However, bars that weren’t able to figure out how to provide food up until this point must remain closed.
Between partnerships and contracting, many bars were able to figure out how to provide food to customers.
Such was the case for the owner of Break Time in Goleta.
Rose Quinn told the News-Press that she lucked out in having not only a catering partner, but also a partner at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
“He was always able to guide me to the best of his knowledge,” she said of the Public Health official. “The rules were changing so quickly, though, for them that sometimes it was hard to translate those quickly changing rules to me. He did his best though — I felt well supported.”
She added that her caterer, David Medina, a well-known cook in the Santa Barbara restaurant scene, was on board right away to help Break Time stay afloat.
The owner said she tries not to think about if the rules make sense; rather, she just focuses on how to follow them and keep the sports bar’s doors open.
“I think they (bars) have been on an island on our own,” Ms. Quinn said. “Whether or not it’s fair or not, I try not to think about that. If you think about it too much, you’re just going to go nuts. I just wake up and put one foot in front of the other.
“People don’t quite know what they’re doing … but we have a lot of good people, so I focus on that.”
The News-Press reached out to the California Department of Public Health about the reasons behind some of the guidelines for bars, such as why they are required to serve food but other establishments are not, how wineries were never required to serve food and why the food requirement exists.
In response to the questions, the department’s Office of Communications wrote, “An interview is not doable at this time.”
However, the department provided this statement regarding its food and beverage service guidelines: “California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy is intentionally slow and stringent to help slow and stop the spread of COVID-19. The Blueprint, guided by data and science, imposes risk-based criteria on tightening and loosening allowable activities in a given county.” The office continued, “This criteria applies to business sectors as well as activities. We know that the more people mix with others outside their household, either at private gatherings or at businesses, the greater the risk of COVID-19 transmission.”
The manager at Uptown Bar and Lounge on upper State Street, Tysen, said he believes the state guidelines are fair to bars, but noted they pose challenges.
“It’s just operating and being successful with the service is the biggest thing,” Tysen, who declined to give his last name, told the News-Press. “Under these guidelines, it’s really hard to be successful with how we’re operating. … We have to have the right employees in the right places at the right times, because if we don’t, we fall apart and service goes out the window.”
Uptown served food prior to the pandemic, but cooks were able to leave at a certain time every night when the kitchen closed. Now, when the bar’s open, the cooks have to be there as well, and Uptown had to cut down its menu and stick to the basic dishes.
“One of the hardest things is labor costs of our kitchen guys and trying to operate within a budget to be successful,” Tysen said. “Now we have to keep them on for all hours of operation.”
That being said, the bar’s large outdoor patios have kept its head above water, although Uptown had to remain closed for the month of February, which is the slowest month of the year for business.
“It’s just been kind of a back-and-forth game. That part as a manager I don’t really like that much,” Tysen said. “It would’ve been nice to just be shut down for a while instead of shut down, open, shut down, open. That part has just been challenging for us to keep our doors open.”
County Public Health Environmental Health Services was unable to answer the questions regarding the reasons behind the guidelines, as they were made by the state. However, the department did say it understands the changes in requirements can be confusing.
“To help our local businesses understand and adapt to the changing requirements, we regularly send out updates,” Environmental Health Services said in a statement to the News-Press. “Our staff continues to visit businesses and conduct food safety inspections. During these inspections, staff provides information on COVID-19 requirements and answers questions. Businesses can contact us at 805-346-8460 (press 3) if they have specific questions about state guidance for operation.
“The guidelines are developed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in our community. The vast majority of our local food and beverage businesses have taken steps to make sure they are in compliance. It is important for us all to continue to take steps to slow the spread of the pandemic.”