The Department of Business and Professional Regulation will allow bars to reopen at 50% capacity Monday as COVID-19 continues subsiding in Florida.
DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears signed an executive order Thursday evening rescinding restrictions the department placed on bars a mere three weeks after reopening them in June after a surge in cases. In the new order, the Secretary writes that the state’s COVID-19 response efforts are now “negatively impacted” by continued restrictions
“In meetings with hundreds of owners of bars and breweries across the state, I’ve heard their stories of struggle, and I’ve observed their serious commitment to making health and safety a continuing priority in their businesses,” the Secretary said in a statement. “It’s time that we take this step, and it’s vital that we start moving forward with this sector of our hospitality industry who have endured one of the toughest paths for sustaining a business during this pandemic.”
Alcohol vendors may operate at 50% capacity, allow bar service to seated patrons, and permit outdoor seating and service with appropriate social distancing, according to the order.
A week ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters during a brewery roundtable that he hoped to “get to yes” on reopening bars. During a Thursday media availability in on restaurants amid the pandemic, he indicated there was no timetable for bringing back bars, but said it would be soon.
Most bars reopened in early June, but Beshears ordered them closed again before the end of the month, citing the spike in cases and noncompliance with the state’s limitations. The following weekend, he apologetically defended the decision on Twitter and attempted to console owners and employees.
“Obviously, we saw some outbreaks linked to bars in Florida, but my sense is that that behavior would probably have been happening in private residences if it wasn’t there,” DeSantis said. “At the same time, we kind of want to see all those folks operate similar to how the restaurants have done and done it in a way, gained the confidence back and then have the capacity to go forward.”
Last week, DeSantis said Beshears was inundated enforcing the restrictions, comparing it to wack-a-mole. But the Governor’s goal now is to get all employees back to work as the state fights a slowly recovering unemployment rate.
“Every Floridians should be able to work. Every business should be able to operate,” DeSantis said. “We’re 98% there in terms of what we’ve done in Florida, but this is kind of like the remaining piece, and I know Halsey’s been working hard on it.”
The decision to reopen bars left many restaurant owners excited.
“WE GET TO OPEN THE BAR MONDAY!!!!!” Sean Dunnigan, who owns Ollie’s Pub in Cape Coral, posted on Facebook about 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Jacob Weil, a lawyer who represents bar owners suing the state over the shutdown, said he is glad DeSantis is allowing proprietors to reopen.
“Unfortunately, due to the delayed action he took, and unchecked power he allowed Secretary Beshears to take in this unprecedented time, thousands of establishments will never reopen, and those that do will likely never be able to climb out of this hole the state has put them in,” Weil said in a text message.
State officials “failed countless small business owners, their employees, and their patrons, by failing to properly regulate,” Weil added.
In late July, the Florida Brewers Guild warned DeSantis that the “vast majority of over 320 small businesses, representing over 10,000 jobs, are existing solely on a ‘to-go’ model for our products — this constitutes less than 10 percent of our collective sales and is an untenable model for our industry.”
A number of tavern owners were able to keep their doors open by offering low-budget, hassle-free cuisine, such as hot dogs, cold sandwiches and Hot Pockets, as the restrictions didn’t impact restaurants and other establishments that served food.
Bars and craft breweries were among the businesses ordered to go dark in March by DeSantis in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness known as COVID-19.
Bars in all but Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties were allowed to start serving indoors again in early June. But the situation got out of hand as photos of numerous packed establishments not following safety guidelines went out over social media, spurring Beshears to re-impose the onsite consumption ban June 26.
Here is the order from DBPR:
Additional reporting by the News Service of Florida was used in this report.