There’s no doubt that the current landscape is about as challenging as it gets for local bar and restaurant owners.
Not only are bars and restaurants forced to deal with a customer base that has been diminished since COVID caused a statewide shutdown starting in March, but new health regulations pose additional hurdles to business’ success, including the limited number of patrons any given establishment can host, the 10 p.m. deadline for selling alcohol, and the lack of patio space available (especially in downtown) which, come winter, will be an even greater burden.
From a distance, COVID regulations appear to have caused extensive financial damage to Columbus bar and restaurant establishments—and make no mistake, they have. However, many local eateries and watering holes have embraced these changes as a necessity to restore order, and they’ve found creative ways to adapt their business models to navigate the choppy waters of a pandemic.
For Austin Crawford, General Manager of the Woodbury, the establishment is handling these changes in stride. He noted that due to the restaurant’s already-stringent policy on maintaining cleanliness—policies that were in place before COVID—workers haven’t noticed too much of a change.
“We have no issues with the guidelines or the process set forth to keep people safe. We as a restaurant already followed a pretty regimented cleaning and sanitation process as part of our daily operations pre-COVID-19,” he said.
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Crawford also noted that while county health officials have paid the restaurant recent visits (something all functioning bars and restaurants are currently experiencing), the establishment hasn’t had issues with the attention and is in full compliance with health regulations.
Service Bar, a Short North/Weinland Park distillery and bar has, since March 18, transitioned into a takeout-only operation.
“It’s been an adjustment period for sure, but we’ve really settled into a good operation now as more time has passed,” said Beverage Manager Kyle Nelson. Aside from offering takeout for an array of to-go libations, house mixed drinks, and even choice selections from their on-site bottle shop, Nelson says the business has also tweaked its food choices to be more carryout friendly. “We’ve definitely had to adapt—we’ve changed some menu items around and started offering others that are more travel-friendly.”
Like Service Bar, Bexley’s Grain & Grape, a combination bottle shop and craft beer and wine bar, has closed its bar for the time being. While this is, in part, due to a bar update, owners Adam Fleischer and Samantha Smith note that COVID-related uncertainties also played a role in the decision—but for them, like many others, it’s about stopping the spread as well as staying open. With that in mind, Grain & Grape’s imposed a four-customer limit to the space, a move the owner created on his own, while also considering county health recommendations.
“People have been awesome about respecting it,” said Fleischer, adding the bottle shop is currently thriving. “I think it’s important for business owners to be proactive about this, and I also think it’s important to have a robust public health policy at all levels: state, county, city, federal,” he said. “I can’t say enough positive things about how the Franklin County Board of Health and the State Department of Health has dealt with the issue. It begins and ends there.”