‘Closer to normal’: New Dane County order allowing more customers fills bars, restaurants with hope

MADISON, Wis. – Rather than their usual customers, many bars and restaurants have been filled with uncertainty.

“It’s a challenging year,” said Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.

“Across the board, I think for the city and county as a whole, bars and restaurants have been hit extremely hard, if not the hardest,” SCONNIEBAR General Manager Lucas Simon-Wambach said.

In a place that thrives when filled to capacity, keeping it to 25% has left a void.

“SCONNIEBAR generally is a huge place for events, whether it’s the state basketball tournaments, Badger football games, all the stuff,” Simon-Wambach said. “Not having those, overall sales on a month to month basis, or year basis, are way down.”

He said there are times, especially on the weekend, when they hit capacity, and people wait outside as tables stay empty to keep capacity at 40.

“It’s tough to turn away business,” Simon-Wambach said.

It’s been tough for all restaurants and bars, especially for those that are no longer open to anyone.

“Seeing those places have to shut down was hard to see,” Simon-Wambach said.

On Tuesday, he was happy to see news of a Dane County public health order, which will allow restaurant capacity to go from 25% to 50% next Wednesday. Establishments considered as bars or taverns, which weren’t allowed any indoor seating, will be able to open to 25% capacity.

“We were definitely excited,” Simon-Wambach said.

To cope with the pandemic, SCONNIEBAR put a new focus on food and takeout, especially late night offerings, but Simon-Wambach knows not all establishments could do that.

“(The new order) is huge for places that don’t have kitchens at all,” he said.

“What today says and signals very clearly is there is hope,” Brandon said. “We just need people to see that hope, to set the fear aside, to have confidence in public health officials, have confidence in our economy, and to go out and safely enjoy things we love about our community.”

The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, along with other local chambers, did a survey of businesses about the pandemic’s impacts. Brandon said about 60% of food and beverage related businesses have had “catastrophic revenue loss.”

“We’re talking between 40 to 60%, depending on which sector you’re in in the hospitality industry, looking at closure by June if health regulations weren’t changed,” he said. “It is a dire situation.”

Brandon stressed the importance of keeping up with precautions.

“One of the most pro-business things you can do, other than your spending dollars at these local businesses, is wearing a mask,” he said.

Simon-Wambach knows those safety measures will be sticking around. SCONNIEBAR will keep its tables distanced and continue enforcing mask-wearing.

“We want to make sure people know it’s not like things are wide open,” he said. “It’s not a free for all by any means.”

As restaurants and bars get a little less empty, some hope is creeping in, too.

“That’ll be nice, to let those people in and fill up tables and chairs,” Simon-Wambach said. “It’s exciting news. We’re getting back, closer to normal.”