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Some restaurant leaders, owners decry 'disastrous' outdoor dining plan

A maximum of 50 guests are allowed outdoors under the latest order from Gov. Tim Walz.

Minnesota restaurants and bars can reopen June 1, but the latest order from Gov. Tim Walz still prohibits dine-in service, leaving establishments with one option: utilize outdoor space the best they can. 

The order also prohibits restaurants and bars from serving more than 50 customers at a time, with no more than four people allowed at a table unless it's a family, in which case up to six people can be together. 

Hospitality Minnesota was caught off-guard by the decision, calling it a "disastrous setback" for owners who had started to hire back staff with loan money obtained through the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). 

"While it’s good for those restaurants that are able to offer outdoor seating, it will leave many behind around our state who cannot host patrons in an outdoor patio setting."

Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove said that operators who lack or don't have outdoor capacity need to get as creative as possible to develop space.

He recommended placing tables on sidewalks, bike lanes, utilizing parking spaces and even mentioned the possibility of working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to block off sections of roadways. 

Owners react with anger

Gov. Walz said the outcome isn't perfect, with the 50-guest limit proving to be a major limiter for operators with larger patios while indirectly giving larger establishments an advantage over smaller restaurants. 

"Lord Fletcher’s can seat 600 people on our decks and they give us 50 ? Are you kidding me ?!?!" Tom Emer, owner of Lord Fletcher's on Lake Minnetonka, wrote in a Facebook post. 

Meanwhile, small establishments like Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub in Minneapolis are disadvantaged. Northbound has only eight picnic tables on its patio, effectively setting Northbound's max capacity at 48 – and that's only if eight families are six are there at the same time. 

"This is not viable for many restaurants and bars. They will close forever and add more lost jobs to the more than 525,000 jobs Minnesota has already lost due to COVD-19,” said Rob Scott, owner of Lucy’s Burgers in White Bear Township.

“We want to work to keep our restaurant open and abide by social distancing. Our efforts are not good enough for Governor Walz or government officials. The government does not seem interested in helping restaurants stay in business and saving jobs,” Scott added. 

A similar sentiment of fear was echoed by Hospitality Minnesota: "As these businesses stare in to the face financial collapse, today’s announcement further delays the incoming revenue these small businesses need to survive. 

"If these businesses are being asked to remain closed or mostly closed, then they need the State’s help with a targeted relief package that provides the support our businesses need to navigate this financial catastrophe."

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