Milwaukee restaurants adjust as colder temps arrive

The Milwaukee Health Department as of Friday, Oct. 16 has approved hundreds of businesses' COVID-19 safety plans, permitting in-person dining with no capacity restrictions.

The decision to reopen dining rooms, though, isn't always an easy one. Taking your food to-go, or dining outdoors, have been the popular options since the pandemic began.

On Thursday, Suzzette Metcalfe's business, The Pasta Tree, on Farwell Avenue reopened to dine-in customers seven months to the day that it closed its doors to the public.

"Once we opened, and people started coming in -- I had to step back and I shed tears," said Metcalfe.

Outdoor dining in Milwaukee

Outdoor dining in Milwaukee

It hasn't been easy, but the decades-old restaurant survived -- at least for a time -- on takeout and delivery.

"I can't speak for every restaurant, but I've seen a decline in our sales for takeout and delivery, and that's what's kind of forced my hand," Metcalfe said.

The Pasta Tree is one of more than 400 Milwaukee businesses with COVID-19 safety plans on file with the health department, allowing them to continue in-person dining.

Milwaukee Health Department placard denoting an approved COVID-19 safety plan for bars and restaurants

Milwaukee Health Department placard denoting an approved COVID-19 safety plan for bars and restaurants

In addition to creating some outdoor dining in the back, Metcalfe said some tables will be gone, allowing more space between diners, and an "igloo" will be put in.

Outdoor dining options have been a lifeline, particularly through the city's Active Streets program.

"We can't just keep doing things the same in a very abnormal time," said Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic. 

Outdoor dining in Milwaukee

Outdoor dining in Milwaukee

Dimitrijevic, who represents Bay View, authored the Active Streets program and is behind a proposal to extend the program into the winter -- allowing temporary structures and heaters.

"Businesses are doing everything they possibly can to operate safely for both patrons and workers. And I do think we need to open our minds a bit," Dimitrijevic said.

For Melissa Buchholz's restaurant, Odd Duck, on Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View, indoor dining will not be coming back anytime soon out of an abundance of caution. Their strategy to pivot to outdoor dining and offer specialty takeout options has allowed them to survive.

Outdoor dining at Odd Duck in Bay View

Outdoor dining at Odd Duck in Bay View

"Literally done everything we possibly could, except for dining indoors," said Buchholz. "For the most part our plan is to stay outdoors as much as we possibly can and make it through the winter."

Both Buchholz and Metcalfe saif the city, through grants and health guidance, has been a steady hand at the tiller to navigate these times. 

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Time will tell what the future will look like.

The proposed changes to the city's Active Streets program for those winter outdoor dining guidelines go to the public works committee next week.

Milwaukee sees significant rise in COVID-19 positivity

MHD will continue to monitor the situation and determine if additional protective measures are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19.   

COVID-19 safety plans approved for 476 Milwaukee restaurants, bars

Under Phase 4.1 of Moving Milwaukee Forward Safety, bars and restaurants were required to submit a plan for approval to continue serving guests in person.