Gov. Walz

Gov. Tim Walz

Minnesota restaurants and bars will be able to reopen to indoor service — with coronavirus restrictions — starting Monday, Jan. 11, Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday morning.

In addition, wedding receptions and other private parties will be allowed to resume — also with restrictions — and swimming pools will be able to more fully reopen, although also with restrictions, Walz announced.

The easing of rules, which return Minnesota to a status similar to the upswing of the fall surge in the pandemic, comes as the number of cases and those hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to fall.

Here’s a summary of the rules that will be in effect, starting Monday, according to Walz’s office:

Indoor dining at bars and restaurants can open at 50 percent capacity, with a maximum of 150 people. Parties of no more than six people must remain 6 feet from other parties; bar seating is open to parties of two; reservations are required; and establishments must close dine-in service by 10 p.m.

Gym and fitness center capacity remains capped at 25 percent but maximum capacity increases to 150 and classes can increase to 25 people, assuming distancing can be observed. Machines and people must maintain 9 feet of distance. Face coverings are required.

Outdoor events and entertainment continue at 25 percent capacity, but maximum capacity increases to 250 people. Social distancing is required.

Indoor events and entertainment – like bowling alleys, movie theaters, and museums – may open at 25 percent, with no more than 150 people in each area of the venue. Face coverings are required, and they may not offer food service after 10 p.m.

Youth and adult organized sports resumed practice of Jan. 4, and games can resume Jan. 14 with spectators, following the appropriate capacity limits for indoor or outdoor venues. Inter-region tournaments and out-of-state play are discouraged.

Pools opened Jan. 4 for some activity, and may now open, like gyms, at 25 percent capacity, for all activities.

Wedding receptions and other private parties may resume with limits. If food and drink are served at the event, then they are limited to two households or 10 people indoors and three households or 15 people outdoors. If there is no food or drink, they are covered by event venue guidelines. Any related ceremony – such as a wedding or funeral ceremony – is guided by rules for ceremonies and places of worship.

Places of worship remain open at 50 percent capacity but without an overall maximum capacity.

Walz will discuss his decision at 2 p.m. live on his office’s YouTube channel.

OWNERS OPTIMISTIC

Restaurateurs are cautiously optimistic that this partial opening will get them through to spring, when vaccinations could be widespread enough to re-open fully.

“It’s really good news today,” said Brent Frederick, co-owner of Jester Concepts, which operates Parlour Bar St. Paul and several Minneapolis restaurants.

Frederick, who has been a part of a roundtable of restaurant and hotel owners lobbying the state government for the hospitality industry, said Walz told his group that the new rules are permanent, until restaurants can be 100 percent open.

“We’ve been pushing to stay open from the start,” Frederick said. “We as an industry really rallied around each other, to get our COVID plans together, help each other out, source PPE. I think 99 percent of us did a really good job.”

Frederick’s restaurants, which include P.S. Steak, Borough and Monello in Minneapolis, all have state-of-the art air filtration systems that were installed in August.

So does one of St. Paul’s most iconic restaurants, The Lexington. Co-owner Josh Thoma said he’s already hearing from customers that are excited to get back to dining in next week.

“I think it’s safe, as long as you follow our COVID rules and you’re socially distanced,” Thoma said. “All of our employees are wearing masks. All of the air at the restaurant goes through those filters every 15 minutes. (The filters) are purported to kill 99 percent of viruses, bacteria and mold.”

Thoma said The Lex is big enough that 50 percent capacity allows for a decent amount of revenue. Maybe not enough to turn a profit, but at least he can get employees working again.

Frederick also said getting employees back to work was his number one priority.

“With less in the way of stimulus, it’s been really hard on employees,” Frederick said. “We have to get them back to work.”

Frederick said another thing that could help restaurants hire back more employees and turn a profit would be authorizing cocktails to go. He and other restaurant owners and bartenders have been pushing for the state government to allow them to sell takeout drinks, fully mixed. Wine and beer are allowed for takeout, but restaurant owners say that customers can get the same product for a lower price at a liquor store. Cocktails are proprietary, and something customers can’t get elsewhere.

“The liquor stores have made an absolute killing off this executive order,” Frederick said. “And that’s great, good for them, but there’s no reason we can’t sell to-go cocktails.”

And as far as what the average Minnesotan can do to help the ailing restaurant industry?

“Make a reservation, get takeout, do something,” Frederick said. “We need sales now more than ever. I’m really hoping that when we kick this virus and get it under control that we’ll be busier than ever.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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Dave Orrick

Dave Orrick reports on state government and politics from the Pioneer Press' Capitol Bureau. When the occasion demands, he's been known to cover topics ranging from hunting to golf. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and son.

dorrick@pioneerpress.com Follow Dave Orrick @DaveOrrick

Jess Fleming | Food writer

Jess Fleming has been with the Pioneer Press since 1999, and has been covering the Eat beat since 2012. She is an adventurous eater, cook and gardener, but will only grow something she can eat. She is a graduate of the journalism school at the University of Minnesota and a native of Eastern Wisconsin, where she grew up eating good brats, good cheese and fresh vegetables from her dad’s garden.

jfleming@pioneerpress.com Follow Jess Fleming @jessflem

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