INDIANAPOLIS — As cases spike, Marion County is now cracking down on restaurant and bar capacities despite the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association (InRLA) saying little, if any, contact tracing has shown cases coming from restaurants.
“Restaurants throughout this time have practiced the best practices prescribed by the FDA, CDC,” said Patrick Tamm, president and CEO of InRLA, “That’s where that table service really helps achieve social distancing and guest from intermingling and so forth.”
Moving forward, all restaurants in Marion County will be reduced to 50% capacity indoors, and all bars will be 25%. Full outdoor seating will continue, but any tents can only have two sides.
“It is hard to enjoy a meal with Indiana cold wind blasting you in the face. We have some unique ideas where it’s bring your own blanket, BYOB,” Tamm said, adding that restaurants on Massachusetts Avenue are already making change. “You’d be surprised at what some are able to achieve. It’s going to be portable heaters that run the entire span of their canopy.”
InRLA argues that the new restrictions will have minimal change to restaurants as prior restrictions called for full capacity, but with social distancing requirements like having tables six feet apart. This restricted many establishments to nearly 50% any way. Bars will take the biggest hit. Downtown Indy has already seen several businesses close so far.
“Right now wearing that mask, keeping social distancing, is not just good for you, it’s good for every local business owner in the city of Indianapolis and the state. We as an industry don’t understand why that is so challenging. We are also put in tough situations where we have to police mask wearing,” said. Tamm.
“This is exactly where you want to take your friends when you come into visit, where you enjoy unique family moments, where you propose to your girlfriend, where you get married, you celebrate your kids’ birthdays, those restaurants will not be there if you don’t wear a mask, don’t practice social distancing. Hollyhock Hill is that restaurant for my family. Don’t close Hollyhock Hill, wear your mask. That’s where my mom had the most memorable events of her life, don’t close Hollyhock Hill. There are countless restaurants like that across the country.”
While the restriction mandate came down from Mayor Joe Hogsett, Travis Sealls, owner of Punch Burger downtown, argues that customers are really dictating these changes. If establishments are not safe, people won’t come. He says it’s imperative that restaurants and bars prove they are a safe place to be.
“We are hyper aware. We have an expected sanitation level that is above normal. It literally is the survival of our business,” said Sealls, adding that restaurants are safer than social gatherings at someone’s home. “Even in my own house, I don’t go spray and wipe down my table every time someone sits down.”
InRLA says many restaurants have taken advantage of Indy’s Hope Grant funding which helps establishments pay rent. Tamm adds that places have used an estimated $11 million so far. Additionally, Tamm says the city is also offering $2,500 in reimbursement for places that winterize their outdoor seating areas.