Breweries must reduce public capacity to 50 percent starting Monday

There will be far more empty tables at breweries all around New Mexico starting Monday.

The big weekend crowds at breweries, bars, and restaurants will not be continuing this coming week, and potentially for a lot longer in New Mexico and nationwide. While California, Illinois, and Ohio have closed all of the above indefinitely, our local breweries will still be allowed to open, albeit under new restrictions.

Starting Monday, all breweries will operate at no more than 50-percent occupancy and 50-percent seating capacity. No one will be allowed to sit at bars, and standing patrons will not be served. All tables will be capped at six patrons, and all tables will be a minimum of six feet apart. This order from the State Department of Health follows up a recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control to limit all events/gatherings to 50 people or less for the next eight weeks. It should noted that this means all sporting events, including the Albuquerque Isotopes and New Mexico United, will not be starting up anytime soon.

Most breweries have been promoting the fact that you can take beer to go, and for those with kitchens, the food as well. After initially saying it was OK to bring in your growlers, most are now saying that only fresh growlers will be filled, along with crowlers and pre-packaged beers.

We have started reaching out to the breweries to gauge their reactions and update this story with their plans going forward. We will continually update this story with their responses. Here are the first two.

Tractor Brewing co-owner and president Skye Devore sent this message out to her employees: “David (Hargis) and I are going to go to each location tomorrow before (we) open and remove bar stools, check distances between tables and evaluate new occupancy rates. Obviously this is going to lead to less business of the in-house variety. We are going to do a push for package, growlers and to-go food (perhaps even start delivery) so that we can try to fill the gaps. I am going to ask if you have another job, or you do not depend on Tractor for your livelihood, that you let me know so that if we need to cut shifts we are not giving you something that is much needed by someone else. If you feel unsafe coming to work given the new restrictions, please reach out to me. I will furlough you, help you file for assistance and see you on the other side of this mess. I am also going to speak with Kayla about giving employees meals at food cost so that can help lessen any effects. I promise that we will hang in here as long as we can/are allowed and still have a Tractor to come back to on the other side. David and I appreciate so much all of your dedication and trust in us. It is not lost on us and when we started this journey we never imagined having the responsibility to lead such a wonderful group of people through something so frightening and pivotal. Any feedback is absolutely welcome.”

Turtle Mountain owner Nico Ortiz had this to share: “Turtle Mountain is going to comply with the new directive, and will try and make this as pain-free on our employees as possible. But, with a 50-percent or more reduction in business comes a reduction in the hours and tips of our FOH (front-of-house) staff and the hours of the kitchen staff who will be prepping less food and cooking for fewer people. All of which will hurt across the board. Being a restaurant makes this even more painful on us as we have so many employees who depend on their tips to make ends meet. I personally think this is an overreaction to the issue, but have no choice or say in the matter.”

Steel Bender co-owner Shelby Chant added this: “It’s incomprehensible that we, alongside fellow New Mexico breweries that have helped build such a strong, viable, and economically impactful community, are having to navigate this new territory. It’s a heavy and sad time for small businesses, and for those who will feel the impact of the inevitable domino effect. We are complying immediately with the limitations outlined by the most recent public health order and hope that this will indeed help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help us turn the corner on this … healthy and stronger. We have communicated with our Steel Bender family as of this evening that we also are going to do all we can to keep this, as Nico said, as pain-free as possible, but a limitation on our taproom business will obviously have an impact on our staff.”

Quarter Celtic co-owner Ror McKeown shared his concerns: “The 50-percent capacity is just a physical limitation, but what it’s telling the masses is not to go out.  We think that it will affect sales closer to the lines of 75 percent! We will try to ride it out as long as we can, but changes are required instantly for health and business. We are changing our hours so that we are open 8 hours, that way we can staff one shift instead of two. We will be helping our employees get the information they need to apply for the COVID unemployment package. A global pandemic is a death sentence for small businesses, their employees, families, and communities. Making sacrifices is gut wrenching and not knowing the duration of this is really scary.”

To all the brewery employees, and indeed everyone in the restaurant/bar industry, we can only cross our fingers and hope for the best for all of you as we collectively face a very uncertain financial future.

— Stoutmeister

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