New Guidelines For Connecticut Ease Bartending Restrictions at Restaurants and Events

The Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development has revised reopening guidelines to allow more flexibility for bar service at restaurants and events. 

According to revised guidelines announced Thursday, workers at restaurant bars are no longer required to be behind a plastic shield when taking orders, serving food and drinks or collecting bills. They do, however, have to remain behind a shield while at “work stations” — areas where they are mixing drinks.

Earlier regulations allowed patrons to sit at bars, but only as long as the entire bar was covered with plexiglass. Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurants Association, said that many businesses declined to install the plexiglass because of the cost, opting instead to serve patrons outside. Now with cold weather coming, he said that these restaurants need to utilize their bar seating in order to make a profit.

“When we talk about capacity, those seats at the bar matter,” said Dolch. 

With the new regulations, the plexiglass only needs to go up in areas along the bar where the bartenders are actually mixing drinks. This change in rules is expected to substantially reduce the expense for restaurant owners. 

Tommy Hyde, director of government affairs and special projects at the DECD, said the guidelines were revised to eliminate the earlier confusion about what a “work station” was. 

“Giving more flexibility and clarity for the restaurant owners … is a win-win for everyone,” he said. 

According to Dolch, the regulations would give bartenders more freedom to do their jobs.

As outlined in an executive order by Gov. Ned Lamont, to-go bar service will continue to be available until November 9, but according to Dolch, restaurant owners say that customers are already coming and sitting at their bars. 

The new regulations also allow private events such as weddings and other large gatherings to have a walk-up bar. 

Shiran Nicholson, founder of the Connecticut Events Industry Coalition, an advocacy group for businesses involved with the events industry, said that having a bar would lessen the number of staff they need to serve drinks, allowing the venues to save some money. It will also open up space for more guests to attend events. 

Nicholson said that his coalition has been working with the Restaurant Association and the DECD to increase capacity. He said that the current cap of 25 people indoors would not be sustainable for large events venues. Dolch said they are asking for 50 percent indoor capacity with a maximum of 150 people in indoor venues.  

For now, however, Nicholson said that even these small modifications will provide some relief.

“Every bit helps,” he said.

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