The ‘new normal’ for Eagle County restaurants and bars starts Monday
Eagle County toolkit details new regulations as community transitions from green to blue phase of COVID-19 recovery
It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.
Among the changes are restaurants and bars being allowed to reopen for dine-in. Ahead of reopening, Eagle County shared an updated COVID-19 business toolkit to help local businesses navigate the transition from the green phase to the blue phase. Developed by the Vail Valley Foundation, Vail Valley Partnership and the Basalt Chamber of Business, the toolkit offers a glimpse into the future of restaurants and bars in the valley.
“You are encouraged to be creative in how to apply these best practices in your establishment” the toolkit says. “Everyone in Eagle County is asked to be vigilant in protecting yourself, your family, your employees and your community by pledging to the 5 Commitments of Containment.”
Every open business in Eagle County must fill out the county’s social distancing protocol, review it with employees and post it in a prominent location in the facility.
The guidelines for restaurants and bars reopening are intended to reduce transmission among employees, maintain healthy business operations, maintain a healthy work environment and reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the community and high-risk populations.
“This freedom to move forward to the next phase and to our new normal comes at a pretty steep price — it’s called responsibility,” Vail Health President and CEO Will Cook said during an online community forum on May 14. “But we’re humans. We evolve. We beat things.”
‘New normal’ for restaurants and bars
For restaurants and bars reopening, indoor seating will be limited to 50% of seating capacity — not fire code capacity — with a minimum of 6 feet between groups.
There will be “no seating or customer walk-up to bars in restaurants except for designated locations to place food and drink orders,” the toolkit from the county says.
Be prepared to see, and respect, signs at establishments asking customers that are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to not enter. Guidelines also include separating guests while waiting to be seated and restricting self-service items, such as buffets.
Reusable menus must be cleaned and sanitized between parties, and restaurants have been encouraged to use menu boards or single-service menus.
Some restaurants and bars will be moving toward plastic, despite the environmental concerns. Normal or reusable tablewear is allowed, as long as dishwashing systems are properly operated to clean, disinfect and sanitize, the toolkit says while also clearly defining “cleaning,” “sanitizing” and “disinfecting.”
With added sanitation efforts, restaurants are encouraged to avoid food contact when using disinfectants.
Restaurants and bars are asked to make hand sanitizer readily available to guests.
“Staff should wear a non-medical face covering at all times when at work,” the county toolkit says. “Remember that distance is better than masks. … Staff are permitted to use their own face veering, but it must cover both mouth and nose and not require frequent touching or adjusting.”
Power of patios
With added guidelines, many restaurants and bars are looking to welcome guests to their patios this summer.
At Bonfire Brewing in Eagle, an extra 500 square feet of patio space has been added, allowing the business to welcome about 10-12 more customers, owner Andy Jessen said, adding the local brewery lost 70% of its revenue having to shut down its normal taproom operations during the start of COVID-19. Bonfire has created a one-way flow through its taproom, set up sanitizer stations across the establishment, removed the self-serve popcorn and water machines and will be cleaning areas more frequently, among other precautions.
“It’s going to be tough. There’s no way around it,” Jessen said. “But we want to get open and try to do the best we can with it and keep things safe, let people let loose finally and see everybody again.”
Bonfire temporarily adjusted its slogan to “Don’t Gather Round” but is ready to welcome its customers back.
In Avon, Blue Plate has its patio ready for customers — set up under a sea of pink crabapple trees.
“The bright spot for us is we have such a big outdoor space,” co-owner Ellie Roustom said. “I really hope the weather cooperates. If it starts snowing Monday …”
Local restaurants and bars are still encouraged to offer takeout options. With eased restrictions, Bonfire has started delivering kegs up and down the valley.
“It’s been so hard to move draft beer because there’s nowhere to sell it other than growlers and crowlers at the taproom, so having the opportunity to deliver kegs out to homes has been good,” Jessen said.
Preparing for visitors
According to a recent survey of over 15,000 people by RENTCafe, a nationwide search website, Vail is No. 8 on the Top 10 Most Resilient Nature Travel Destinations, a place on many people’s itinerary once given the green light to vacation around the country. Yellowstone National Park is No. 1, and Aspen is No. 2.
The survey, completed in early May, found that amid travel cancelations, there are still people hanging on to travel plans. Of the people surveyed having out-of-state travel plans, 40% had canceled, while 42% would still like to travel, even if at a later date, and 18% were undecided.
“Frankly, no one wants to get sick,” Kris Mattera, executive director of the Basalt Chamber, said during the county forum. “It’s not necessarily the tourist that’s the bad guy — it’s COVID.”
While focusing on the health of the local community, leaders and officials in Eagle County have been facing the question about what happens when tourists return.
“It’s an important question, but it’s who we are,” Romer said at the forum with other community leaders, donning a “Be good to people” mask. “We are a community that welcomes people from around the world, that is dependent upon people from around the world.”
For Sage Outdoor Adventures, opening its new Canyons restaurant in Dotsero (with a patio), customer safety and satisfaction is front and center.
“We want to make sure if a family with kids shows up at any one of our facilities and went on a trip with us that they would leave saying, ‘They took such good care of us. They were really concerned with our health and our safety,” said Sage Outdoor Adventures co-owner Darryl Bangert.