In the almost two weeks since restaurants were allowed to reopen under Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders, local restaurant owners said one of the initial challenges was implementing the 25% occupancy restriction.
Parker County Brewing Company owner Ryan Stewart said when Abbott’s order was announced, he contacted the Willow Park Fire Department to find out what their total occupancy number is.
“Once we knew how many people we can allow inside the brewery at a time, we strategically placed merchandise on tables we did not want people to sit at and we took away a few chairs from our large tables to comply with the six persons per party limit set forth by the governor,” Stewart said. “We are using the same outdoor space we had in place before the re-opening, but tables are spread farther apart.”
Parker County Economic Development Council Executive Director Patrick Lawler said they haven’t heard anything negative, and that he knows measuring the 25% capacity is extremely difficult for some.
“You need volume, you have to turn tables, things are necessary in order to reach a level of profitability and we fully understand that,” Lawler said. “We believe that our businesses can operate responsibly. We believe that they can put tables and people six feet apart and do that responsibly and then we expect the governor to give us some direction on that sometime between May 15 and May 18.”
Owners John and Jennifer Shepherd announced on April 25 that Shep’s Place and Saltwater in Weatherford would be permanently closing, but have continued to operate Shep’s Scoreboard because of its larger capacity.
“If I was at Shep’s or Saltwater, 25% capacity would have been really difficult because that would have only been 15 or 20 people in each place and then you’re looking at lines outside and people getting angry, so we’re better able to accommodate people at Scoreboard because we have a large capacity,” Jennifer Shepherd said.
Shep’s Scoreboard has also put sanitation areas in places for people to use commercial-grade sanitizer to wipe their own tables or chairs, though restaurant staff continue to clean everything.
“We operate as we always do as far as health code standards, but we are requiring our staff to wear masks and we take temperatures when they come in and we consolidated because we have two permanently closed restaurants,” Shepherd said. “We’ve let everybody know that there’s going to be some downtime in between turning tables, we’re not looking at speed, we’re looking at doing things correctly, so there’s a longer wait time at the door. If you’re waiting, we have squares outside that you can wait on so you’re social distancing and we reminded people that it’s tough.
“We get a lot of phone calls from people wanting to have 12 people in their party and we have to tell them that we are good rule followers and we don’t want anybody to be sick or not have enough social distance where they don’t feel comfortable. We just want people to come and enjoy themselves.”
As for outdoor space, Lawler said every city is under a different code when it comes to patios.
“Patio space is very confusing and every city is under a different code and every code can handle that a little differently. It is a local decision, but a patio space that is attached or entered on through the building is generally calculated differently than a patio space that is fully detached from the ingress and egress of a building,” Lawler said. “If they are only allowed 25% occupancy in their indoor space, they’re going to have 75% of their parking lot that’s unused and so there’s going to be space they can use, but there are a lot of fire code and building code issues that they have to look at to understand whether they can expand in those spaces. They have to contact their localities directly. Those outdoor spaces still have to meet social distancing requirements, but if they don’t have a roof on them and they’re not enclosed, then the way occupancy is rated in those areas is very different than the way occupancy is rated inside of a building.”
Lawler said his fear is the public walking into a restaurant and assuming that the restaurant is in violation when in fact they are not.
“We’ve told people not to jump to conclusions and call their locality or ask the manager to come over and talk to you about it and let them explain how they are or are not within that scope. I say that because it’s extremely important for people to understand that everybody’s trying to comply. We’re all working together in a way that I have never seen in my 14 years in Parker County and we want what’s best for the Parker County community in general and we want to keep people safe and healthy, and so do those businesses. It is killer for us to see these businesses that don’t make it. It is absolutely heart-wrenching and devastating to see that and as a community we need to step up and support those small businesses.”
Abbott is expected to announce the next reopening phase for Texas Monday.