Hundreds of Texas bars and restaurants are scrambling to change how they operate, maneuvering through loopholes that will allow them to reopen after being closed by Gov. Greg Abbott's latest shutdown targeting bars.
Abbott has shut bars down twice since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in Texas. The first time bars were swept up in a total lockdown of statewide businesses. But the second time, on June 26, Abbott singled bars out while allowing virtually every other kind of business in Texas to stay open.
But other operations such as restaurants that sell a lot of booze, wineries and breweries were ensnared in the same order and also forced to close because alcohol sales exceeded 51% of total revenue, meaning they were classified as bars.
"Generally everyone has a common sense understanding: 'What is a bar? And what is a restaurant?' I think that 51% rule is so broad that it actually picks up or encompasses businesses that we would normally think of as really being restaurants," said State Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie, one of more than 65 lawmakers who signed a letter asking Abbott to update his order's definition of a restaurant.
Wray gave the example of a burger restaurant, where a patron might buy a burger and two beers. Oftentimes, the beer will cost more than the food, but that doesn't make the restaurant a bar, he said.
Emily Williams Knight, Texas Restaurant Association president, estimates that about 1,500 restaurants ranging from steak houses to coffee shops that sell wine were "inadvertently" forced to close when Abbott shut down bars, translating to about 35,000 lost jobs in the state.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission responded to outcry from the service industry with new guidance in a July 30 notice allowing businesses to either demonstrate that they recently had less than 51% alcohol sales or use alcohol sales projections and apply for a Food and Beverage Certificate, documentation that allows them to reopen as a restaurant.
The certificate workaround requires the business to have a permanent kitchen. It allows bars and restaurants to use projected sales numbers instead of requiring past sales to determine if alcohol sales exceed food sales.
The TABC received more than 600 requests from existing businesses for Food and Beverage Certificates since Abbott's order took place and granted about 300, according to commission spokesperson Chris Porter. Almost 90 businesses have also requested to update their alcohol sales numbers in an effort to reopen.
The Texas restaurant industry is already struggling, with Knight projecting that up to 30% of restaurants in the state could go out of business.
For those forced to shut down due to the bar order, it can be a death sentence and business owners see these changes as their last hope.
After his Dallas restaurant was closed for a second time, Lava Cantina owner Ian Vaughn knew he'd have to figure out a way to reopen — and fast — for the sake of his more than 100 employees and to save his business.
After three weeks of pursuing various options to reopen, Vaughn updated his sales numbers to include live music ticket sales from concerts, knocking his alcohol sales percentage down to about 39%. This allowed him to resume operations.
"I was highly distressed throughout the entire time," Vaughn said. "I had over 100 people out of work, and I just needed to get my staff back, and I had bills to cover and no idea how we were going to ultimately make ends meet. You feel completely helpless."
Even some traditional bars can reopen using the same workarounds outlined by the TABC — as long as they have, or will obtain, permanent food service facilities.
Justin Kaufman, owner of the El Paso Drafthouse and The Rey Muerto, decided to reopen his bars as restaurants by using future sales projections to get a Food and Beverage Certificate.
Functionally, Kaufman's businesses operate almost the same as before the second shutdown, using the safety measures he implemented when he was first allowed to reopen. He offers the same menus but now requires all patrons to purchase food with their drinks to ensure he stays under the 51% alcohol sales limit. He also hired additional chefs to deal with the increased food sales.
Although he's happy to be open, finding a way through the state's loopholes took time and money.
Kaufman estimates that the entire process, from hiring new chefs to deal with increased food sales to applying for the permits cost him around $10,000.
"I wish things have been a little different, and I wish we'd been taken into consideration," he said. "I've had no choice but to kind of sidestep these situations and do what I got to do to stay open."
However, the option to reopen doesn't work for everyone. Kim Finch, owner of Dallas bars the Double Wide and the Single Wide, said adding just one kitchen to her facilities would cost about $30,000. A grease trap alone would cost $15,000, she said.
After already draining her savings to keep the bills paid while her businesses are bringing in zero income, adding that expense not an option for her.
"You're just in the dark, you know nothing," she said. "No one's mentioned a 'maybe date.' There's not too much longer that we can all just stay closed and keep paying bills."
Breweries also found themselves forced to shut down by Abbott's order, with two-thirds of Texas craft brewery owners predicting that their businesses could close permanently by the end of the year under the current closures, according to a July survey by the Texas Craft Brewers Guild.
Hopsquad Brewing Co., an Austin brewery, reopened as a restaurant using a Food and Beverage Certificate with an onsite food truck serving as its kitchen, General Manager Greg Henny said.
He was lucky, because the brewery already had a food truck on site, Henry said. But he thinks breweries and wineries should have their own classification separate from bars, because they operate differently.
Henny said the guidance from the TABC has been confusing and harmful to breweries. To help other businesses survive the pandemic, the agency allowed "retail and manufacturing businesses" to serve and sell alcohol in a patio or outdoor area that wasn't part of its original designated premises, which some brewery owners took as being able to reopen.
However, the TABC later released a clarification saying that businesses with more than 51% alcohol sales were not eligible.
"The circumstances are constantly changing as a result of which way the winds are blowing with [the TABC]," he said. "It makes us feel frustrated. We're fighting tooth and nail just to stay open, and we've shown time and time again that we can operate safely," he said.
State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, and Texas Legislative Tourism Caucus chairman led the efforts behind the letter sent to Abbott asking for an updated restaurant definition.
"You've got a lot of these establishments — these restaurants — that are kind of in limbo just because of how much alcohol they sell," he said. "Restaurants that have already been decimated by the first initial shutdowns with the pandemic [and] by some people's reluctance to want to come in and eat."
The letter asks that any business with a permit or license from the TABC still be considered a restaurant if it has a permanent kitchen that is operational during all business hours, serves multiple entrees, includes an exhaust hood and fire suppression system, only serves seated customers and follows social distancing protocols.
Abbott did not respond to requests for comment.
Krause said he also believes bars could safely reopen as well.
"I'd like to see them be able to open up under certain restrictions under certain guidelines," Krause said. "They're ready, willing and able to comply with those."
Angela Clendenin, an epidemiologist at Texas A&M University School of Public Health, said that the rise of COVID-19 cases can't be attributed to any one factor, including to bar activity, but instead is a combination of many. However, it is likely bar activity did have an impact on the overall transmission rate and some areas saw declines after their bars were closed and the mask mandate was in place, she said.
The typical bar environment makes it easy for the virus to be transmitted, she said. People are typically in much closer quarters, willing to socialize with strangers and can't wear masks as they're drinking. Even speaking loudly or singing over music can propel droplets further than usual, she said.
Clendenin said to reopen bars safely, it will take consumers making sure that they are holding themselves accountable and bar owners enforcing social distancing, masking and other safety practices.
"But ultimately at the end of the day, bar owners need to be able to provide for their employees and their families," she said. "This is a very difficult time for everybody, but it goes back to individual responsible behavior and I can't emphasize that enough."
- Governor OKs cocktails-to-go as bars face second shutdown ... ›
- The famous sauce has cooled at Stubb's. Will business return there ... ›
- Without restaurants, bars or festivals, Austin's cottage industry of ... ›
- Abbott closes Texas bars, tubing, reduces restaurants capacity ... ›
- 3 Austin bars get permit suspensions for violating COVID-19 rules ... ›
- Large crowds, record business for some bars, parks and ... ›
- Patios may be 'the only game in town this summer' for Austin ... ›
- A lifeline for some, a burden for others: To-go alcohol sales get ... ›
- Governor OKs cocktails-to-go as bars face second shutdown ... ›
- Via 313 takes Pizzeria of the Year - austonia ›
- 7 Austin hard seltzers tasted and rated by the Austonia team - austonia ›
- New state rule lets bars, taprooms reopen with food trucks - austonia ›
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces loosening of COVID restrictions - austonia ›
- Public alcohol consumption is now legal in 5 East Austin neighborhoods - austonia ›
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces bars may reopen amid COVID - austonia ›
- Travis County judge says bars must remained closed amid COVID - austonia ›
- map of Austin bars converted to restaurants to reopen - austonia ›
- 5 new breweries and more in Austin - austonia ›
- Restaurants closing dining rooms to flatten covid curve - austonia ›
- Alcohol sales are up but Austin breweries still struggling - austonia ›
- Sixth Street shows packed street with no masks after governors order lifted - austonia ›
- Austin restaurants struggle to hire workers after pandemic year - austonia ›
- First hemp vodka in Texas makes its way to Austin - austonia ›
It may not come as a surprise that dating app use surged during the pandemic when many had to swap the benefits of in-person dating for on-screen connections. Bumble revenue swelled to $337.2 million in 2020 compared to $275.5 million, Hinge revenue tripled in the same period and Tinder users broke two records from January to March of 2021.
What may be more intriguing, however, is that many apps anticipate more growth into 2022. Hinge expects to double its revenue by the end of 2021, while Tinder has announced several new features to meet new demands in time for what some are calling a "third surge" of COVID-19.
Vaccinated Austinites who had been eager for "Shot Girl Summer"—a season of in-person dating, going out and making up for time lost—may have to get back on the apps, at least partially, as cases rise higher than they've been since February and mask recommendations reenter the picture.
Austin-area resident Chloe Mohr, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, had sometimes used Tinder before the pandemic. While the app wasn't a supplemental replacement for deeper connections during stay-at-home orders, it did help her stay in the dating game and continue meeting new people.
"Using dating apps during the pandemic was easy when wanting something casual or entertaining," Mohr, who now works in marketing, said.
Chloe Mohr turned to Tinder more during the pandemic to stay connected to people. (Chloe Mohr)
Sixty percent of members came to Tinder because they felt lonely and wanted to connect with people, a Tinder study revealed, and chats were 32% longer during the pandemic.
But dating during a pandemic is no walk in the park when there's fear about contracting COVID, Mohr said. She had fears at the beginning
Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and OkCupid have responded to the new dating criteria, adding vaccination badges to profiles in partnership with U.S. and British governments.
In order to meet the demand for a stricter screening process and the superficial nature of swiping, Tinder has also introduced new features that allow users to add videos to their profiles and chat with others before they've even matched.
The new add-ons could be beneficial for the app as interest continues to swell—Google searches for "dating" have hit a five-year high, according to NPR.
But the future of dating could be vastly different—and stay different—even well into the next decade.
According to a Ypulse study, 43% of dating app users said the apps made them feel less lonely in the pandemic. Even post-pandemic, 40% of Tinder users say they plan on video-chatting with their matches before they meet, and being honest, authentic and respecting boundaries have become big talk on the app in the past year.
While it's unclear how the pandemic will shape dating for good, signs show that Austin residents and those nationwide may lean on dating apps once again if social distancing returns to the norm.
- New nonstop flights for Shot Girl Summer: Take our news quiz ... ›
- Rejoining the dating world: Making out with high school ex in Austin ... ›
- Austin's four richest self-made women in America, Forbes - austonia ›
- Bumble: 2 out of 3 people say you can fall in love before meeting ... ›
- Rejoining the dating world: Making out with high school ex in Austin ... ›
- Austinites are getting back into in-person dating in 2021 - austonia ›
- Why Bumble's IPO means Austin will get a billion dollars richer ... ›
- Pandemic dating is no walk in the park, Austin residents say - austonia ›
- How dating app The Round launched during the pandemic - Austin ... ›
- Austin Is Nation's Best City For Dating Amid Pandemic: Report ... ›
- PANDEMIC DATING: Outbreak has dating app makers like Austin's ... ›
- The Austinites Guide to Better Dating | by Kristina Modares | Austin ... ›
- Is Austin really the worst city when it comes to ghosting? | KXAN Austin ›
- A frank view of Austin dating in HBO documentary 'Swiped' - News ... ›
With more research done on the COVID-19 Delta variant, Austin Public Health is upping its goal of 70% vaccinated to at least 80% due to the extreme virality of the strain.
As more Delta cases are identified—up to 29 cases are confirmed in Travis County—health officials are urging the unvaccinated to get their shots to contain the spread and relieve hospitals from reaching full capacity.
Austin-Travis County surpassed the Stage 5 threshold on Friday and has reached a seven-day average of 61 hospital admissions. However, Austin health leaders have yet to make an official shift as the Delta variant calls for new guidance, APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said at a joint Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday morning.
The new guidance has yet to be released, but Walkes said it will take into account the viral load of Delta on both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the Delta variant was as contagious as chickenpox, which has a herd immunity threshold of at least 90% vaccinated.
Although 63.42% of those eligible in Travis County are fully vaccinated, breakthrough cases—where vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19—are being identified. APH has identified 1,496 breakthrough cases of the roughly 800,000 vaccinated. Most breakthrough cases are showing less severe symptoms or are asymptomatic, according to APH.
Health officials are still asking residents to wear masks, although the city cannot mandate any masking orders due to an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
"Our challenge is going to be whether we're going to stand as a community and everyone who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated, and everyone wear a mask—that's what it's going to take," Walkes said.
- Most patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated - austonia ›
- Unvaccinated Austinites at risk of Delta variant with hospitals seeing ... ›
- UT warn of full-capacity ICUs, up to 11,000 more hospitalizations ... ›
- COVID hospitalizations reach Stage 4 threshold - austonia ›
- Delta variant, unvaccinated fuel rise of Austin COVID cases - austonia ›
Save Austin Now police petition will reach November ballot after county clerk certifies 25,000 signatures
Save Austin Now is now 2-0 over Austin City Council after its petition to add more staffed police officers to the Austin Police Department was certified, garnering over the 20,000 votes needed to make it on an election ballot.
The petition calls for more police staffing per city resident, quicker response times and more training for city police officers in the wake of increasing violent crime rates nationwide and a year of limited APD staffing. The City Council will now decide whether to implement the ordinance outright or add it to the November election ballot; it will likely do the latter.
Over 25,000 of the 27,778 signatures racked up by the public safety petition were certified as valid, well over the 20,000-vote threshold required to be certified with the City Clerk. City Clerk Jannette Goodall placed the city's seal of approval on the petition on Tuesday morning.
The petition, by the same political group that got the camping ban reinstated through a petition in May, seeks to:
- Require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents
- Require a minimum standard of 35% community response time
- Add 40 hours of training
- Require city council members, Mayor Steve Adler and other city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
- Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics
Austin's 160 patrol vacancies have dropped its staffing rate to 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the department. APD's response time has increased by about one minute and 50 seconds in a year.
The petition comes nearly a year after APD's budgets were slashed by city council following the summer's Black Lives Matter protests, which saw several demonstrators severely injured as millions called for justice in the police-related deaths of George Floyd and locally Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black man killed by APD officer Christopher Taylor, in April 2020.
Austin and the U.S. have experienced a widespread uptick in violent crime rates in 2021. The city has reached 49 homicides in 2021, higher than the total number of murders in all of 2020 and the 38 homicides in the city in 2019. Austin police officers have seen response times rise as the department suffers increased vacancies and fewer newcomers while cadet classes are being readjusted.
Opponents argue the ordinance would ramp up a policing budget while taking away from other departments including Fire, EMS, violence prevention, and mental health care. City Council Member Greg Casar, the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Justice Coalition have spoken out against the organization's latest public safety move, calling out the campaign as a "right-wing petition" that misleads those who sign.
🔥 PANTS ON FIRE: Republican-front group Save Austin Now is lying about their petition!
They say their measure is about police reform, when it's really about devastating our city budget - all for the benefit of the police union. Watch the video here ⬇️ #ATX pic.twitter.com/Z6QQSfhHfH
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) August 2, 2021
The latest battle between city council and Save Austin Now will be decided by Austin residents in the Nov. 2 election.
- Austin City Council drags on homeless camping ban reinstatement ... ›
- Conservative Jennifer Virden announces run for Austin mayor ... ›
- No homeless public camping vote on November ballot for Austin ... ›
- Save Austin Now sues city of Austin over camping ban petition ... ›
- City files response to Save Austin Now lawsuit - austonia ›
- Save Austin Now tries again to reinstate camping ban - austonia ›
- Save Austin Now calls on attorney in fight over Austin no-camping ... ›
- Save Austin Now relaunches petition to reinstate camping ban ... ›
- Save Austin Now submits police staffing petition - austonia ›
- Save Austin Now launches petition against crime - austonia ›