Order up! Restaurants adjust to new bar seating rules

Oct 5, 2020

Order up! And under some plexiglass. 

Over half a year into the covid pandemic, bar seating has returned to Massachusetts. But bars and restaurants across the Tri-Town said reopening bars hasn’t been as easy as pulling up a few stools.

Guidelines released on Sept. 24 allowed bar seating at restaurants to reopen, but included caveats like social distancing between parties, sit-down service only and six feet of distance between patrons and bartenders. 

Establishments also have to install plexiglass at the bar between patrons and servers according to the new regulations. But plexiglass is expensive, and after the guidelines were set, Brew Fish Bar and Eatery General Manager Bryce Guilbeault said it’s been hard to come by. 

“Two months ago, we probably could’ve had it ready to go,” Guilbeault said.

But now it could be a few weeks until the bar is ready and safe for use. 

Bars were allowed to resume operations on Sept. 28, leaving just four days for owners to get the necessary supplies to reopen safely. 

“They dropped that load of restrictions on a Thursday and said you can open on Monday,” Guilbeault said. 

Guilbeault said Brew Fish is also putting heaters outside as the weather gets colder. 

“We’re kind of just taking it in stride,” he said, adding that he thinks things are “trending in the right direction.” 

Guilbeault said that recently, Brew Fish has been bringing in its revenue mostly from food, with only about 20% coming from alcohol. 

But he said he thinks people are “itching to go out,” and that 20% figure could double.

“I think there’s a lot of people who feel more comfortable sitting at a bar,” Guilbeault said. 

But for some, that comfort is all but washed down by the new regulations.  

“It kind of takes away from what a bar really is,” said Joe Sauro, co-owner of the Stowaway Bar in Mattapoisett. “This particularly doesn’t do anything for us.” 

Doing the math, Sauro said only six to eight people could sit at the bar, and plexiglass would cost $3,000 to buy and install. 

He said he will most likely stick to having half the normal amount of tables in the restaurant and bringing bartenders out from behind the bar to serve customers. 

Regardless, he said a lot of running the Stowaway and the four other restaurants he owns has been navigating gray areas from state regulations.

“There is no clear cut narrative,” Sauro said. “Having the bartender be closer to the patron makes zero sense.” 

Despite the regulations, Sauro said his meetings with town Health Agent Kayla Davis have gone well.

Richard Pasquill, owner of Turk’s Seafood Market and Sushi, said it would be hard to keep the familiar atmosphere of Turk’s alive at the bar with new regulations. Realistically, he would have to run a new electrical system to make it work. 

Still, Pasquill said business has “been successful” during the pandemic, despite closing at the start of the pandemic to educate employees on safety measures. 

Now, Turk’s is using a combination of indoor and outdoor dining. Customers have the option of sitting on its new patio, or sitting “indoors” in an open-wall area that leads out to the patio. 

“We’re just trying to keep the customers feeling safe,” he said.

It’s important to Pasquill especially because he feels Turk’s is the kind of place where people want to see each other. 

To help, the restaurant will use radiant heat in its floors and is hoping to keep the temperature of the dining area to around 60 degrees.

Carol Lareau, co-owner of Tastebuds in Mattapoisett, is in a similar situation and is trying to keep outdoor dining going with heaters.

She said it was a “wonderful summer” and hopes to keep the tent up in the restaurant’s parking lot as it gets colder.

As for the new regulations, she said Tastebuds has never been a “bar, bar,” so the restaurant’s focus has been more on dining.

Like Turk’s, Tastebuds closed early on in the pandemic.

“Nobody knew what to do,” Lareau said, adding that the eatery was initially slammed with takeout orders.

Seven months later, she said customers have been impressed with what she and her staff have done.

“It’s been a challenge, but we love challenges,” Lareau said.