‘No one wins right now’: Restaurants, bars concerned about surviving another round of restrictions

Some restaurants never reopened and are trying to figure out how long they can continue to operate

MADISON, Wis. — The new guidelines for restaurants and bars officially went into effect Thursday. Many businesses are concerned about surviving another round of restrictions.

“No one wins right now. Everyone loses it’s just to varying degrees,” said Evan Dannells who owns Cadre Restaurant.

Dannells said it’s “a constant source of concern” as to whether or not his restaurant can survive another several months like this. His restaurant was only open for four months before everything had to shut down. He said once restrictions loosened and allowed restaurants to operate at 25%, “We didn’t see a very good market for takeout so we decided we would like shutter and kind of ride this out.”

Dannells said operating at such a low capacity wasn’t worth being open to him. Dannells waited until 50% capacity was allowed. He reopened his restaurant for the first time last week and will now have to readjust his plans to abide by the new guidelines.

“It felt pretty safe until, suddenly, it didn’t,” he said.

While Dannells just started to re-enter his restaurant back into the dine-in experience, there are some restaurant owners who still haven’t opened their dining rooms at all.

Dave Heide, who owns Liliana’s in Fitchburg and Charlie’s On Main in Oregon, said he never saw the point in opening up, even at 50% because it wasn’t financially feasible and he was more concerned about the ongoing health and safety risks.

“I have a 100% safe environment in doing takeout right now. Like I am 100% confident in that my staff are safe, my customers are safe and that makes me feel good,” Heide said. “It was the right thing to do. We were worried about the interaction between our staff and our customers and that’s exactly what’s been happening. I’ve heard horror stories of customers who have been asked to put a mask on and fake coughing at their servers. Just all sorts of horrible stuff that isn’t funny at all.”

Dannells said every restaurant and bar has it’s own reasoning for re-opening at a certain time and deciding how they will operate. Dannells said his business was able to survive without opening for months because all his staff went on unemployment so they could still have an income, which Dannells said accounted for most of the cost to stay afloat. However, he decided to reopen last week because some of his full-time staff will soon be off unemployment and need jobs.

Although Heide said he feels he is doing the right thing, his businesses have suffered a major financial loss in the past few weeks.

Heide said he went from “60% of our normal sales down to about 30% of our normal sales and then this last week down to about 10% of our normal sales.”

Heide said his decision to keep his restaurants closed was a personal choice that had full support from his staff. However, Heide said he’s considered the idea of reopening because now he’s competing with other restaurants who are offering the dine-in experience again which he knows has been more profitable.

“I don’t fault one restaurant that decided to reopen. Like, I get it. It’s scary as hell,” he said.

Dannells said every restaurant and bar has its own reasoning as to when and how it will reopen as restrictions loosen and tighten. The reasons, he said, range from having to pay rent, wanting to keep people employed, deciding whether or not to have staff file for unemployment, cost of inventory, etc.

But with no clear end in sight, Dannells said, “The longer this goes out, the survive-ability rate of restaurants is just going to drop at an astronomical rate.”

Both Dannells and Heide said they would like to see more financial assistance from the local government to support businesses and to implement a mandatory mask policy.

“You are as safe as you allow yourself to be,” Dannells said. “If you want to eat out and you have concerns about the practices in place, call the restaurant, look at their website, go to their social media. Do one of those things to find out somebody who is taking the precautions that make you comfortable dining out. There are quite a few of us here in Madison who are taking this very seriously and working very hard and spending a lot of money and time to provide the safest possible experience. I don’t want a few places that decided to do a cash grab and ignore the rules to spoil and ruin the opportunity for a lot of other businesses to stay alive.”