Monday, October 25, 2021

EL bars and restaurants prepare for St. Patrick's Day amid COVID-19

These crowds will differ from previous years

March 16, 2021
Downtown East Lansing on July 17, 2020.
Downtown East Lansing on July 17, 2020. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

A typical St. Patrick’s Day at Crunchy’s East Lansing is described involving presale tickets, which allow people to keep their spot from 8-10 a.m., a breakfast buffet and free t-shirts, according to Owner and General Manager Michael Krueger.

Preparations for March 17 are looking slightly different this year. Crunchy’s plans on opening for lunch instead at 50% capacity with no presale tickets and only availability on a first-come-first-serve basis. They will also use an app to track and maintain a waitlist so that they’re able to contact people once their table is ready.

According to Krueger, Crunchy's is following all the health and safety measures that the state of Michigan requires. This includes equally and socially distanced tables, no more than six people at a table and all the same stringent sanitizing procedures under COVID-19 restrictions.

The ongoing global pandemic has had a tremendous impact on business, he said. Especially when they were closed for months and had to serve takeout only, something they survived through the continued support of the community.

Before COVID-19, Crunchy’s was one of the extremely busy local businesses. They were often at full capacity, especially on weekends. With long lines from time-to-time, things were good.

“We still sell a lot of food, but having the curfew and the 50% (capacity) really cuts down on alcohol sales, which frankly is how most bars and restaurants make their money,” Krueger said.

With Barrio Tacos opening shortly before COVID cases made their way to Michigan last year, the Ohio-based restaurant — along with every other bar and restaurant in the state — was temporarily shut down during St. Patrick's Day 2020 due to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order.

Jake Hawley, the owner of Barrio said at the other locations the restaurant's branches have been very busy. They always open early, are at capacity all day and get a lot of overflow bar business. It’s predominantly a drinking crowd, so they prepare for that and staff employees accordingly.

The one week Barrio was open before COVID, Hawley said they were almost as busy as they could be. Hawley reported long wait times, full capacity seating and overflow of customers in the bar area.

For this year, Hawley said Barrio is preparing for St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s hard to know what to expect these days. They'll still have 50% capacity, so not a lot is expected to change from a normal day operating. They’re on wait seven days a week, so they’re used to being busy.

“We don’t let people in the building unless they’re going to a seat, to a table, so we can control the crowd inside our restaurant," Hawley said. "... We’re used to dealing with long wait times, and we're used to controlling the crowds."

Hawley said they’re preparing for more of a drinking crowd this year to have more fun than a normal Wednesday. They are opening earlier at 9:00 a.m. and plan on maintaining the mandated COVID-19 restrictions.

"The big thing is making sure that people aren’t gathering around tables to talk to friends, moving tables and chairs around, but that’s stuff we deal with on a daily basis," Hawley said.

Joe Bell, owner of The Peanut Barrel, recalled previous St. Patrick’s Days where people could walk around, socialize, go from table to table, go up to the bar, chat with the bartender or friends at the bar.

"Nowadays, it’s totally different," Bell said. "You have to be in your seat, at your table and the only time that you’re really allowed to move around is to use the bathroom or to arrive or leave. So, we’re under a fair amount of restrictions as to how people have to use our facility."

Prior to COVID-19, Peanut Barrel had a capacity of about 95 people inside and 42 people outside, they also had lines outside, Bell said. Now at 50% capacity they have 47 people inside and 28 people outside. They also use a waitlist to notify people when their table becomes available.

“We think that this year for St. Patrick’s Day, there will probably be a little bit of interest (in sitting) outside," Bell said. "It's supposed to be in the 50's and sunny,” Bell said.

Bell also believes that usually on St. Patrick’s day every place will fill and that this year it’s quite a possibility that if there’s demand, downtown places won’t have room.

Peanut Barrel will be maintaining the same health and safety measures that they’ve been using all along. According to Bell, the day is not going to be any different for the restaurant then it has been for past few months.

“We will do everything in our power to maintain the rules and regulations that are set out for us, and I’m assuming that the other bars and restaurants in town will do the same,” Bell said.

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Peanut Barrel, along with certain other bars and restaurants, are a part of the East Lansing Responsible Hospitality Council. As part of their bylaws they all agree that if laws are in place they will follow those laws, according to Bell.


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