Restaurants in Wyoming open up under new state guidelines

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) -- In Gov. Gordon's latest public briefing, he announced that the public health mandate would be amended to allow for Wyoming restaurants to resume dine-in services.

Under the new guidelines, restaurants must adhere to social distancing guidelines, which include keeping patrons at different tables apart from one another by at least six feet on all sides.

Furthermore, tables must be limited to six people -- unless the members of one household exceed that number -- and staff are required to wear proper personal protective equipment, such as gloves and face coverings.

2 Doors Down, a restaurant in downtown Cheyenne, was hit hard by the closures, taking a roughly 30 percent hit to their financial earnings within the first week of the state health mandate (as compared to their reported earnings for this point in 2019).

However, the business says that they've managed to successfully reopen, though the new regulations have brought in a different set of issues.

"We had to adapt, we have social distancing put in place," says Jerry Inniss, the store's owner. "For our restaurant, it was a little tougher because -- the way our booths are set up and things like that -- we only have about 16 tables that are able to be used for dining inside."

Inniss describes some of the steps his restaurant is taking, all following in line with the state's new policies.

"We're wearing our masks; servers are running around, up and down the stairs, and they've got masks on, so we've gotta be careful it doesn't impede their breathing too much," he says. "And sanitizer -- we've lost layers and layers of skin because we wash our hands and sanitize them so often. But it's necessary. We don't want to compromise anyone's safety or health."

Curbside carryout, a tactic that 2 Doors Down had relied on to maintain business during the closures, is no longer an option for the restaurant, as recent reopening has driven customers -- both for 2 Doors Down and other nearby stores -- to use the public parking in front of the shop.

With the state now allowing customers in the building, though, 2 Doors Down is able to make takeout an option to customers who come inside.

"We have a system put up where they can just walk in, give us a number, and in about 30 seconds, they're out the door!" says Inniss. "So, we're trying to marry the two procedures and make it as seamless as possible for the customers."

As a result of all these new procedures and operations, Inniss claims his business has started seeing more success.

"We've had people come in, we've had people who aren't ready to come in yet -- and that's fine, they're picking up orders -- we've had people who really don't want to even come in the building, so we're accommodating that, as well," he says. "Whatever makes them feel safe, we're respecting that, and we're trying to cater to that."

R&B Breakfast Club, another restaurant situated off East Lincolnway, says the recent closures took a sizable toll on their earnings.

"I really didn't have to shut down, but it wasn't fair to my employees," says Bill Garcia, the owner. "Things dropped down 25, 28, 30 percent, and we're a roaring business; we're all-the-time moving! But throughout seven weeks...about 175,000 [dollars]?"

With business slowing, Garcia says he ultimately shut the business down in order to allow his employees to file for unemployment.

Right now, he has eleven employees on hand.

"I told them, 'Hey, I'm gonna shut the place down.' Because I own the building, it's not like it's going to hurt me. It made it easier for them to get more money than they otherwise could," he says. "I normally make good money -- really good money, which is why they've been here for years -- but it just wasn't fair. They have kids, mortgages and stuff."

While the restaurant reopened its dine-in services Saturday, Garcia reports they have yet to receive any major boom in business, though he doesn't "blame anyone for not wanting to go out."

Still, staff are taking steps to act in accordance with state guidelines and keep their store safe, including sanitizing tables, wearing protective equipment and keeping patrons separated at social-distance lengths.

"Everyone's wearing masks," he says. "And we have three girls cleaning. It's not that busy, so one of them's cleaning most of the time."

Despite all of the regulations, Garcia says he's going to keep the 22-year-old business going.

"[We're] all working without any stimulus money," he says. "We're trying our best."

Wyoming's Rib and Chop House, yet another restaurant located in downtown Cheyenne, reopened its doors to dine-in customers Friday evening.

As a result of the public health mandate, the store was forced to downsize to remain afloat, laying off several of its workers.

"We had some layoffs, just like everybody else did," says CJ Kopack, the general manager. "But we made sure that those people got unemployment -- the ones who were eligible got paid that way."

As less money came in, the restaurant was forced to shift its perspective.

"Sales-wise, we were down a good chunk. But we had enough to pay the bills," says Kopack. "Our main concern shifted from generating a profit to making sure our teams were taken care of."

Despite laying off workers during the closure, the Rib and Chop House was able to get back to full staff by its reopening.

Kopack says the restaurant saw major attendance during its reopening weekend, bringing in much-needed revenue.

"Friday night [and] Saturday night were great, Sunday was phenomenal, as well," he says. "I think people are just cooped up and ready to get back out."

One of Wyoming's Rib and Chop House's staples is its paper tablecloths, which customers and staff were able to draw on with crayons provided by the establishment.

However, due to the need to keep with public health guidelines, Kopack says the business has reigned that practice in.

"Unfortunately, we aren't able to draw on the tablecloth right now; that part has gone away," he says. "With the crayons being touched by people, we decided it was best if we get away from those being on the table at all times."

If requested, crayons can be given out to select customers, though staff members are no longer allowed to use them as they had prior to the pandemic.

"We still hand out the crayons to the kids and the guests that want them, so they can color as they want," says Kopack. "But we're not writing our names upside and backwards anymore right now. It's more just making sure that [customers] still get that aspect of it."

In order to better control social distancing, the Rib and Chop House has stopped using its bartop -- state guidelines require that if customers sit at the bar, they must keep a minimum distance of six feet from other customers.

New positions were created in response to the guidelines, too; "sanitarians," as Kopack calls them, are focused wholly on keeping the restaurant sanitized.

"They keep everything sanitized all day long," says Kopack. "If I touch a door or a wall, they're right there behind me, wiping it down, just to make sure that we create a safe environment for our guests."

Current guidelines for dine-in restaurants are set to last through the end of May.

Resources for businesses and employers can be found at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention'swebsite.

For more information about COVID-19 and current state policies, visit the Wyoming Department of Health's website.