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Limited Patio Dining OK, but In-restaurant Dining on Hold



Patios, like this one in Wayzata, will be open June 1 for tables of no more than four (six if you're a family), seated six feet from other guests.

It was like waiting for weeks to see if your numbers won the lottery and then finding out not only were your numbers all wrong, you had the wrong date as well.

Restaurateurs who were expecting to get a solid plan on how to begin reopening their restaurants on June 1, instead were told yesterday (May 20) that only patio dining will be allowed in phase 1 of Minnesota’s reopening plan. Indoor dining is still on hold and the governor said the state still was not committing to a specific date for restaurants to open. Instead the government will observe how this phase of reopening the economy affects the number of new COVID-19 cases—and least we forget why we’re doing all this—to prevent deaths.

“We can’t pretend that this isn’t a big deal,” Gov. Walz said during his televised briefing. “Our peak is still coming.”

Additional mandates include a maximum of 50 people on the patios, seated at socially distanced tables for no more than four people per table, six people if they are families. The governor said they are asking cities to be flexible on what constitutes a patio, so that portions of sidewalks and parking lots may be used. This, of course, doesn't change anything for landlocked restaurants with no patio space available, but for the folks at Craft and Crew Hospitality, who were already lobbying to use part of their parking lot for dining, it is throwing them more than a bone for their dog-friendly patios.

Acknowledging that it's hard to make a one-rule-fits-all on patio dining, Rebecca Ansari, co-owner of Surly Brewing with her husband Omar Ansari, said that their patio could easily fit more than 50 diners all seated at proper social distancing. "Surly has a huge outdoor space, so limiting it to 50 people doesn't make much sense for us, while smaller patio spaces will end up with two tables by the time you space them," she said. "And, of course, so many restaurants have no outdoor space at all, so they are left out of this step completely."

And while the governor's announcement "took significant wind out of everyone's sails," they'll comply. "So, we'll take reservations and cap the beer garden to 50 people at a time. I have no idea if we are going to then ask people to leave so another reservation can be seated," she said. "I'm guessing some parties will want to sit all night, finally getting a chance to hang out. Time will tell..."

Servers are required to wear masks and it is suggested that guests wear them as well, at the very least when they’re arriving and departing.  Diners must make reservations as both a way to keep the numbers in check, and also as a means of tracking any breakouts of the virus.

Masks will be the new dress code, as today the Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis ordered residents to wear masks in indoor public places.

In her member update May 21, Liz Rammer, CEO of Minnesota Hospitality, didn’t disguise her disagreement over “yesterday’s extremely disappointed and surprising announcement from the state,” saying “state officials have not yet come to fully appreciate the devastation our industry is facing.”

The association is urging members to contact the governor’s office to relay how the announcement negatively affects their businesses. She included the contact information: Phone: (651) 201-3400; Email:  https://mn.gov/governor/contact/

It’s a delicate balance for restaurateurs and other small business owners between their economics and keeping their staff and guests safe. Some states that opened up earlier are starting to see the numbers going up, according to various news sources.

There may be some good news out there, however. The U.S. government looks like they may be extending the deadline for using the first round of Payroll Protection Program funds.

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