As aid is withheld and COVID cases spike, restaurants get new safety guidelines

This you and your nine buds?

This you and your nine buds? Star Tribune

Though a far cry from the normal we once knew, a particular set of safety measures in place since early summer has become familiar to patrons of the Twin Cities’ bar and restaurant scene. 

Those guidelines – like making reservations, donning masks for the protection of everyone around you, keeping party sizes capped at four guests, or six if everyone was from the same family – were meant to keep us, as a society, safe from COVID-19. 

This afternoon, Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health announced they’ll be switching up some of those guidelines. While the new rules don’t achieve the 75 percent indoor dining capacity increase many restaurant owners had been pushing for, the most noteworthy change involves raising a cap on party size to 10 individuals per group, regardless of family association.  

This decision comes seven months into the pandemic, as Minnesota reports an all-time high of COVID-19 infections from unknown sources, and the CDC confirms the coronavirus spreads by airborne transmission as well as person-to-person. Meanwhile, temperatures are dropping here in Minnesota, which spells the end of traditional patio season.  

Given this scenario, some of the nation’s more powerful chef-restaurateurs from all over the country had joined forces early on as the Independent Restaurant Coalition to approach the federal government for help making it through these rapids.  

Their lobbyists got $120 billion in protections for 11 million restaurant workers written into the latest HEROES Act. But on Tuesday, the Regenereneneroned leader of the United States stepped in, blocking Congress’s progress on that same bill.  

So perhaps it’s worth considering the timing of Walz offering up six more seats, here and there for the taking, for those who might accept them. Even if he’s still banning dancing. (Which he is.) 

For Nick Rancone, owner of Revival, the news of the increased party size did little for him.  

“I appreciate the attempt of Governor Walz to expand the ability for us to gather revenue. However, my restaurants aren't just plug-and-play where you can put a larger group of people in,” he tells City Pages. “Also it [assumes] the fact that people even feel comfortable eating in a large group, which I don't think that they do at this point. So unfortunately, we've been politicized.”   

Worse, though, was watching bipartisan support for the restaurant bailout fund evaporate after banks and airlines have received so much money, no strings attached. “For this to just get a thumb tack put in it for the next four to six months? You're going to see a lot of restaurants die in the meantime. It’s unfortunate that we have to deal with that because of some political gamesmanship,” he says.  

“You haven't seen the same support on a small business level, where most people are employed in our community," says Rancone, "and where it hits hardest is the fact that this winter is going to be really rough for us, and we don't know how to play it.” 

Without any external support coming, there remains no “right” or elegant solution for individuals looking to navigate ethical dining during a pandemic. For some, that means making a reservation and tipping the living shit out of our servers so that owners stay in business and workers can pay their rent; others feel best sticking exclusively to takeout so that their germs don’t enter the melee. 

We all care about restaurants, and hopefully we care about each other, too. Each of us (still, forever) should decide how we care for and sustain one another other. 

Referencing the airborne nature of the virus, Rancone says he won’t be opening the insides of his restaurants at all, and will continue to put all his faith in customers supporting them through takeout and delivery. 

“Yes, I have a vested interest in my businesses from an economic standpoint, but I have more of a vested interest in the well-being of my employees than to put them in harm's way for a 30-top. It's not worth it.”