EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Today is a grim milestone for Wisconsin restaurants. One year ago, Tony Evers implemented his first order placing restrictions on restaurants and bars. Though the order was overturned in court, it set the tone for a year of pandemic-related challenges. First News at Nine’s Max cotton shows us how restaurants are still struggling to survive COVID-19.
The last year has been tough for Acoustic Cafe General Manager Morgan Hinds-Munson.
Even with Governor Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order thrown out, her restaurant is putting safety first.
“We never stopped that. As a business, we just felt the safest thing to do was follow those guidelines. It’s been kind of a tumultuous year, for sure,” said Hinds-Munson.
Hinds-Munson says the restaurant started by limiting service to curbside orders for a few months. Since reopening its dining room, Acoustic Cafe’s capacity has been reduced to 25 percent.
“It’s been rough. It really has been,” said Hinds-Munson.
The Acoustic Cafe is not alone.
Wisconsin Restaurant Association President and CEO Kristine Hillmer say, “We know that there’s a public health emergency and we know that there isn’t the confidence that dining out is safe and so restaurants are having to figure out how to manage that whole process and it’s been really difficult.”
Despite there being three FDA-approved vaccines on the market, things look bleak.
In a WRA survey, one-in-ten Wisconsin restaurants say they’ll “definitely” or “probably” close within months without additional government stimulus dollars.
Hillmer says the recently passed American rescue plan will help.
“PPP was a good shot in the arm but it wasn’t perfect, but we continue to see shutdowns with restaurants. So, there is a need for a restaurant-specific relief package and there is one within this,” said Hillmer.
Restaurateurs also aren’t convinced things will return to normal soon.
According to a national survey of 3-thousand eatery operators completed last month: a third of them don’t see business getting better for at least 7-to-12 months. Another third thinks it will take even longer.
Hillmer said, “Restaurants are going to need to build the confidence that eating out is safe. There’s a lot of people. That don’t feel that eating out is safe even though restaurants have heavily invested in hypersantization, requiring masks of their customers as well as their staff and really have gone above and beyond to do whatever they can to make their facilities safe.”
While restaurants like Acoustic Cafe are keeping their doors open, it doesn’t come without personal risk.
Hinds-Munson said, “It is kind of a double-edged sword though because while it’s great that we’re busy and bustling, is it the safest thing. The pandemic is far from over and I think we just kind of need to remember that.”
With more people getting vaccinated every day, there may be some hope on the horizon.
In Eau Claire, Max Cotton, First News at Nine.