'Game-changer:' Chefs, servers, restaurant hosts eligible for vaccine

On Friday, March 12, state health officials announced restaurant workers are immediately eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. Some business owners feel this is a critical step in bringing life back into Milwaukee's restaurant scene. They say confidence and comfort levels between staff and customers is key for a return to normal.

"It's great to be on the other side of that first year," said Mike Buckley, owner of Buckley's Restaurant & Bar.

After a grueling 365 days, much-needed relief for some in the hospitality industry came Friday.

"It's been a struggle," said Buckley. "It's been a struggle for everybody in the industry." 

Buckley's Restaurant & Bar

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services expanded its COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include "chefs, servers, or hosts in restaurants."

"It really just, it's a game-changer," said Buckley.

At Buckley's near Cass Street and Wells Street in Milwaukee, stringent safety measures have been maintained since reopening to dine-in service last summer. It's meant indoor seating remains at about 25% capacity.

"That will be the hurdle the vaccination allows us to get over," said Buckley.

Buckley's Restaurant & Bar

Buckley said vaccine eligibility for his staff points toward a return to normal. 

"I know that the vaccination for our staff will be key to providing them with that level of comfort they need to having coming to work," said Buckley.

"They’re really our front lines on the hospitality industry," said Gabriel Yeager with Milwaukee Downtown BID #21.

COVID-19 vaccine

Yeager said increasing confidence among restaurant workers and customers will bring new hope for a new season. 

"I think there's a general sense that with more and more people vaccinated, people will have a sense of comfort dining inside our restaurants," said Yeager. "This is truly the moment our bars and restaurants have been waiting for."

Buckley's Restaurant & Bar

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In fall 2020, about a dozen restaurants participated in the Active Streets Program, allowing partial street closures to give restaurants more space for patio seating. Yeager said he anticipates that returning in May.

Find out if you're eligible for the vaccine, and learn more about where to get the shot HERE