Back to normal?

Bars, restaurants reopen, follow new guidelines
By 
Charlie Denison
Senior Reporter
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
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Bartender Amy MacBlane, right, serves regular Jim Awbery at a buddy bar at the Montana Tavern Tuesday morning. MacBlane is happy to be working again and hopes to see activity pick up as Fergus County remains without positive cases of COVID-19.
Photo courtesy of Mike Lamphier

As the workforce returns to bars and restaurants throughout the state, employees of Fergus County are grateful to have the chance to work, and owners and managers are thrilled to reopen.
“It’s good to be back,” said Eagles manager Teresa Lamphier, a sentiment shared by the majority of people in the industry around Central Montana.
Still, it’s not quite the same, Teresa said. Only parties of six or less can be served, everything must be sanitized, people can’t sit at the bar and the list goes on.
“We are required to enforce social distancing,” said Teresa. “We ask our customers to help us with this by policing themselves. After all, if guidelines aren’t met we could be shut down.”
Teresa said her customers have done a good job adhering to the Central Montana Health District’s stringent guidelines, as have her employees.
“We all understand safety is paramount,” she said, “and we are doing all we can to protect ourselves and our customers.”
One way they are doing this is by having all customers start a tab to avoid germs from cash or additional transactions.
Mike Lamphier, owner of the Montana Tavern and The Western, said this new policy has disappointed some customers, which has had an impact on sales.
“We are probably doing less than half of the business we were when this started,” Mike said. “It’s slow. Some people are still scared so they are waiting it out some more, and others just don’t feel like it’s the same. It’s a tough combination for us, but we are doing what we can.”
Mike said he and his employees are taking the regulations seriously. Tables are spread out and drinks are served to customers at their respective buddy bars. Hands are washed frequently, counters and tables are sanitized “like crazy” and doors are closed at 11:30 p.m.

Business might be down in the bars, Mike said, but the­ Stockman and Gem casinos – which he also owns – are “rocking.”
“I think there has been a lot of pent up demand,” he said. “Following social distancing guidelines, we don’t have as many people as before, nor do we have as many machines, but the machines we do have are getting a lot of play.”
Although discouraged by the situation, Mike is trying to stay positive and hopes to see fewer restrictions by July.
“We are surviving,” Mike said, “but we’ve definitely taken a hit.”

Restaurants faring well in early stages of reopening
Harry’s Place owner Kim Ferrell is very pleased to have employees returning and customers flocking to her restaurant.
“Things have picked back up,” she said. “Our days are almost back to normal.”
In some ways that’s exactly how it feels, Ferrell said, but her staff knows better than to get complacent, as bars and restaurants have stringent guidelines.
Central Feed Grilling Co. is also abiding by these guidelines; in fact, they even enjoy them.
“Some of the stuff that I thought would be difficult I ended up liking better,” said front house manager Sarah Shephard. “I like all of the condiments being kept off the tables and sanitized between uses, and I like our upstairs table layout. We’ve talked about continuing some of our new ways after social distancing is over.”
Part of this positivity is the response from the public.
“People have been understanding about the change,” she said.
Elks bar/restaurant manager Kris Gapay agrees. She’s been excited to see so many regulars return and take in the atmosphere the lodge provides.
“The community has been great about supporting us,” she said. “I really appreciate how much the public has done to help the small businesses in the town. Without them we couldn’t keep our doors open.”
Gapay said takeout orders were a big hit before restaurants got the go-ahead to reopen, and now that they’ve been given the green light customers don’t appear to be taking it for granted.
“People have been very understanding,” she said. “They are being safe and are taking all precautions that are necessary. Staff is doing the same. We have a large space that can accommodate a lot of people, but it’s been good. We’ve had extra staff on board to help with the sanitization process and we’ve been creative about moving some things around to accommodate social distancing standards.”
El Rancho Alegre is also making the necessary changes and seeing positive results.
“People seem to understand why social distancing is important,” said El Rancho server Polo Sanchez. “They’ve been respectful of the new rules. No customers have gotten angry.”
Following Health District policies stemming from Governor Bullock’s directive, El Rancho Alegre and other restaurants are operating at half capacity, making it easier to abide by the social distancing requirements.
This is all right with Doc’s owner Tony Brown, as well, although he’d like to see things get back to normal sooner rather than later.
“I have no problem with saving lives, I mean, I’m a high-risk guy, but we’ve had no positive cases here in Fergus County,” he said. “Still, we’re doing everything we can. We are sanitizing salt shakers, sanitizing menus…we even redid our kitchen. We’ve done a heck of a job. We want our customers to feel safe and feel comfortable.”
Nevertheless, Brown said he wonders just how much of this is completely necessary in Fergus County at this time, as he said it is blessed to be somewhere that appears to be untouched by the virus.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “It’s almost as if we were walking around in the summertime like there’s ice on the sidewalks.”

 

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