By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
When the pandemic first began, restaurants were among the first to close. As Milwaukee moves into Phase 4 of the Milwaukee Moving Forward Safely plan, many restaurants are beginning to reopen.
Earlier this week, Mayor Tom Barrett held a Milwaukee Moving Forward Safely webinar that focused on restaurants and bars and the new regulations they must follow. The City of Milwaukee Health Department created a safety plan for food and drink establishments and a risk assessment tool to determine maximum capacity.
Barrett noted that restaurants and bars were among the businesses hit the hardest in the wake of the pandemic. While establishments have reopened, their businesses may not look like they did before with new measures in place to safely protect staff members and customers.
“I’d love to say we’ll be out of these turbulent waters in the next day, week or month, but I’d be guessing,” said Barrett.
Paul Bartolotta, the chef, owner and co-founder of The Bartolotta Restaurants, explained the measures that his restaurants are taking to ensure a pleasant dining experience while still being safe.
He said that when a customer makes a reservation, they are notified that a mask is required. If they show up, without a mask, they can receive one from the hostess. The restaurant’s new motto is ‘when the mask is up, the server shows up and when the mask is down there’s no server around.’ His team has even put their names on the mask to humanize the situation.
Bartolotta said his restaurants are looking at the inclusion of partitions and that cleaning methods have become more intense.
Bartolotta noted that while things haven’t returned to ‘normal,’ this is the new reality and people need to coexist with it. Mistakes are going to happen, but everyone is having to modify their behavior.
“This is an ongoing learning curve for all of us,” Bartolotta said. “It’s not a perfect science.”
Jack Holt, the operations manager of Point Burger Bars, said masks are offered to staff members and guests alike. Holt also made sure that there is at least six feet of space between patrons. Guests are seated at every other table and there are six feet of space between every two chairs at the bar.
As sports resume, Holt anticipates larger crowds. He said the bar specials will be offered in the dining areas to spread people out and that there are plenty of TVs around the space.
Claire Evers of the City of Milwaukee Health Department said restaurants and bars are encouraged to stock tissues and garbage cans are frequent intervals throughout the space. High touch surface areas should be cleaned every hour and staff members should wear a face covering.
If an employee should test positive for COVID-19, Evers said that a restaurant or bar should reach out to the health department. Places won’t get shut down for having a positive case, she said, rather the health department wants to help restaurants and bars handle the situation in a safe and efficient manner. Risk assessment tool and city guidelines can be found at city.milwaukee.gov/mmfs.
Restaurant owners can also find guidelines and a tool kit through the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.
Kristine Hillmer, the president and CEO of the WRA, said the organizations wants to help restaurants enact safety measures that will instill confidence in diners. The organization offers educational resources, COVID-19 safety guidelines and a toolkit with posters, gloves and more. More information can be found at wirestaurant.org.
As Milwaukee continues to move forward, residents are asked to act with patience and understanding as the city adjusts to a “new normal.”