Durango restaurateurs welcomed guidance given by Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday when he released draft rules for the reopening of in-person dining, but some said the proposals will make it difficult to operate profitably.
The most obvious restriction that worried restaurateurs was a requirement for 8 feet of spacing between tables.
“Eight feet apart seems pretty far apart for tables and kind of nonfunctional especially in small restaurants,” said Jim Carver, co-owner of Carver Brewing Co.
Carver said he had hoped to open the brewpub at the end of May, but now after getting a glance at Polis’ proposed restrictions, he said that date has been moved back to mid-June.
“Some of those rules are really tough, and all of a sudden your costs go way up. I get what they’re doing, you know, they’re certainly starting with the tightest restrictions, and then you can loosen them,” Carver said. “But it makes it hard to operate and make a profit, and if you’re not making a profit, you can only operate so long before you go out of business. Your bank balance just keeps going down and down, at some point it goes down to zero.”
Carly Van Hof Thomson, business operations manager at Zia Taqueria, said she’s been out with a measuring tape at the two Zia taco shops and an 8-foot spacing requirement presents the same business dilemmas for her.
“I guess I’m just curious where that 8 feet apart came from when regulations that we’ve seen to date have been 6 feet,” Van Hof Thomson said.
In practice, an 8-foot distance between tables would mean only two tables may be available for seating at each of Zia’s two restaurants, and that would likely be unworkable, she said.
“We’re worried it’s just going to create a group of people waiting for tables and creating more congestion,” she said.
Van Hof Thomson said Zia is still working out scenarios to reopen for in-person dining, but it may continue to offer only take-out if rules prove unworkable.
The restaurant is also looking at opening only its patio at the south restaurant and perhaps offering outdoor dining in the parking lot at the north Zia.
Dave Woodruff, general manager of El Moro Spirits and Tavern and president of the Durango chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said Polis’ rules are in the drafting stage, and feedback from restaurants will help formulate more practical final-draft regulations.
“You know, it’s always a negotiation. The governor is going to give his side, restaurants are going to give their side, and, hopefully, we’re going to meet somewhere in the middle.”
He encouraged restaurant owners and managers to give constructive feedback about what their prime concerns are so final rules will be as functional as possible.
At El Moro, Steamworks Brewing Co. and Bird’s, Durango restaurants owned by Peak Food and Beverage, Woodruff said a rule banning shift meals from being consumed on-site would create problems.
“So, one thing we do at El Moro, Steamworks and Bird’s is that everyone gets a shift meal. There’s an operational cost when you start talking about 40, 50, 60 employees. There’s a cost for to-go boxes, there’s a time cost if employee can’t eat on-site,” he said.
Other proposed rules in Polis’ proposal also had Van Hof Thomson and Carver scratching their heads.
The proposal banning self-service had Van Hof Thomson wondering how Zia would operate its self-serve soda fountain.
Another rule, banning the use of cups, which would be replaced by paper cups, struck her as odd.
“We’re not clear on the rule about cups just because cups are sanitized in the same way as any other dish or utensil, and we’re not really sure if there’s a huge risk in a fully sanitized cup or water bottle,” she said.
Carver said the general tenor of the rules is to place increased responsibility on employees to monitor customers’ behavior – for instance preventing people from congregating at the entrance or ensuring that only one person at a time is in the restroom.
“You know, we can do what we do. We can train our employees. But on a busy day, we serve over 1,000 people a day, something like 1,200 guests,” he said. “With these rules, you’d have to have two people on staff just to be watching to make sure your employees are doing everything they have to and then you’d need another employee to watch the guests to make sure they’re all compliant,” he said.