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Gov. Henry McMaster on Tuesday ordered that all bars and restaurants close in-house service to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
The closures were ordered to begin Wednesday.
“Restaurants and bars must close their dine-in service starting tomorrow, starting tomorrow morning,” the governor said. “It is allowed and recommended that takeout, curbside delivery of food….all that be increased, enhanced”
The order was expected by many leading Columbia restaurateurs.
Kristian Niemi, owner of the fine-dining restaurants Bourbon on Columbia’s Main Street and Black Rooster in West Columbia, said he closed his establishments on Monday.
“We’re bleeding it out slowly,” he said of the restaurant industry. “We should just go ahead and close and then get a plan.”
He said government officials, from the president on down, have been sending “mixed messages” about whether patrons should continue to go to bars and restaurants with precautions, or stay away.
“It’s frustrating,” he said.
The governor had an hour-long conference call with members of the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association Tuesday morning, the organization’s chairman Bobby Williams said.
“Things are terrible for everybody, but the restaurants are really going to be suffering,” said Williams, CEO of the local Lizard’s Thicket restaurant chain.
Williams said his business is down about 25% over last year. But unlike many restaurants, his string of stores has a vibrant carry-out and drive-thru business.
“This is the first time we’re ever had a slow down,” he said.
Williams, also president of the Columbia Restaurant Association, said other eateries have bigger declines, he said.
“Another restaurant group said that they were down 40%,” he said.
Another long-time Columbia restaurateur, Darrell Barnes, one of the founding owners of Yesterdays in Five Points, said they were planning to voluntary close in-house dining before Tuesday’s executive order.
“We were going to talk about it tomorrow,” he said, “and probably close before Sunday.”
The restaurant will now focus on a more streamlined menu, and takeout, curbside pickup and delivery, Barnes said.
“If we deliver it will be in our own automobiles,” he said.
Barnes added that many of his employees have been working at Yesterday’s for decades. “And we are going to take care of them. Where now we might have three servers and one driver, we might now have three drivers and one a server.”
Niemi said his options for curbside pickup and delivery are limited because of his upscale fare.
“It depends on the menu,” he said. “If you do sandwiches you can do that. My restaurants are sit-down experience menus. One shoe doesn’t fit all.”
Today’s announcement follows the voluntary closing of several fast food restaurants, nationally.
Fast food restaurants Taco Bell, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Capt. D’s and Arby’s began closing their dining rooms on Monday. Bojangles announced Tuesday it would close dining rooms beginning Tuesday.
Barnes said he expects more measures in the future.
“Everything changes by the hour,” he said.