Texas Issues Detailed Rules for Reopening Bars — Updated

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At a press conference today, Texas governor Greg Abbott said that bars are allowed to reopen at 25% capacity on Friday, May 22, the same day that restaurants are allowed to increase occupancy to 50%. For the sake of clarity: a bar is defined as a business that earns 51% or more of its revenue from alcohol sales.

Just as there were for restaurants, the state has issued several guidelines that bar owners are required to follow in order to operate safely and reduce the spread of COVID-19. There are requirements that customers must follow as well. Both the bar and customer requirements lists are available online, and those guidelines are recapped below.

A paragraph in the patron guidelines shed some light on the reasons for the delay in allowing bars to reopen. “Because of the social interaction that occurs at bars or similar establishments, strict adherence to these protocols is important. A person infected with COVID-19 may not know it, and may pass it to someone else unwittingly.” Unspoken is the fact that alcohol tends to drop people’s inhibitions and impair their sense of caution.

If caught by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commision, a bar that fails to comply with the requirements has a lot to lose — specifically in terms of revenue. The penalties include liquor license suspension for 30 days for a first-time infraction and 60 days for a second one.

The full list of the “Open Texas” guidelines for bars are available online.

Bar Requirements

  • All workers must be trained on “appropriate cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene, and
    respiratory etiquette.” If social distancing of six feet isn’t possible, face coverings as well as sanitation and hygiene procedures should be “rigorously practiced.”
  • Employees and contractors must wash or sanitize their hands upon arrival and between interactions with customers.
  • Employers should “consider” face coverings for all employees; ideally non-medical masks if available.
  • It is ideal for a worker to control access to the bar, including opening and closing the door.
  • Workers with COVID-19-like symptoms are not allowed onsite. The symptoms to screen for include cough, difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, lost of taste or smell, diarrhea and fever of 100 degrees or higher. However, if a different illness is diagnosed, the person can return to work sooner with a note from a medical professional.
  • Workers who’ve had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 are not allowed onsite and should self-quarantine for 14 days.
  • Employees or contractors who test positive for COVID-19 may not return to work for at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared. In addition, overall symptoms must have improved and at least 72 hours have to have passed without fever (and without the use of fever-reducing medications).
  • Features that encourage human interaction such as dancing, arcade rooms or interactive games are not allowed.
  • Do not serve customers that are not seated at tables inside the bar. Barstools should be removed from the bar top area and the bar itself should be blocked off.
  • Tables and chairs may not be moved.
  • Do not allow groups of more than six people.
  • Tables, chairs, stalls, and countertops must be disinfected between groups of customers.
  • Six-foot social distancing is required, including between tables of separate parties and guests waiting to go inside. (A recommendation is to place “an unoccupied table or other object adjacent to each occupied table, creating space to permanently maintain a 6-foot distance between groups.”
  • Orders can be taken from seated customers at tables or via a phone or website app.
  • Entrances and exits must be unobstructed.
  • A hand sanitizing station is required at the entrance, and hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water, or similar disinfectants have to be readily available to guests and staff.
  • Frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, tables and chairs, must be disinfected “regularly.”
  • The overall bar should be cleaned and disinfected daily.
  • Restrooms should be cleaned “frequently” and those cleanings must be documented.
  • For food service, bars must follow the same type of requirements as restaurants:
    • Tables must not be pre-set with flatware, plates or glasses.
    • Utensils, flatware and glassware must be disposable. Update, 5/20/20, 8:09 p.m. According to the Texas Restaurant Association, “bars can use reusable glassware and silverware just like restaurants…” (This also seems like a good time to remind people that, properly maintained commercial dishwashers kill viruses, according to manufacturer Hobart.)

    • Common-use condiments are not allowed, only single-use.
  • Menus, drink lists, etc. must be disposable.
  • If a buffet is offered, it cannot be self-serve. Employees must serve the guests.
  • Employees should wash or sanitize hands after handling payments. Contactless payment systems are encouraged. When not available, contact should be minimized.
  • Employers should “consider” posting signs to remind everyone of best hygiene practices.
  • Bars with 10 or more workers are encouraged to have a designated person in charge of ensuring the health protocols are followed.

Bar Customer Requirements

  • Customers must be seated at tables inside the bar, and stay there for drinking and eating. They may not loiter at the bar counter or in “commonly trafficked areas,” nor can they order at the bar counter.
  • Customers should wash or sanitize hands upon entry, after interactions with employees,
    contractors, other attendees and items, as well as after payment. Cashless payments are encouraged.
  • Guests are encouraged to carry their own hand sanitizers, and use these regularly.
  • Do not have more than six people in your group.
  • Maintain social distancing of six feet and minimize contact with guests not in your household, as well as other guests who are not in your own group. If that’s not possible, wear a mask (when not eating or drinking), wash or sanitize hands frequently and don’t share utensils (or anything else).
  • Do not visit a bar if you’re showing possible COVID-19 symptoms, including cough, difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, lost of taste or smell, diarrhea and fever of 100 degrees or higher.
  • Do not visit a bar if you’ve had known close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and you haven’t finished at 14 day self-quarantine.
  • Individuals aged 65 and older are encouraged to stay home. However, if someone over 65 is at a bar, others should strive to maintain six-foot social distancing from that person.

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