Restaurants prepare for dining changes as colder temps approach

The way everyone approaches dining out during the COVID-19 pandemic will change soon as the weather takes a turn toward colder temperatures.

Restaurants are preparing for increased indoor dining during the pandemic. All Milwaukee restaurants have a Sept. 15 deadline to submit a safety plan.

"We're entering into territory we've never seen before," said Morgan Schnabl, owner of Brunch."It definitely got us thinking of things we haven't thought about before."

Schnabl said her establishment has already been approved and given a green sign to hang. Her restaurants were also already following several opening requirements.

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The safety plans cover anything from face coverings to health screenings for employees at the start of their shifts. Plans also include increased cleaning and sanitizing requirements.

"It was helpful for me to know what we needed to do and have that checklist," said Schnabl. "I think restaurants are a really safe place to be because we are already experts on keeping things sanitized and clean because we've been making people's food for years."

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association predicts 30% of Wisconsin's restaurant industry could close their doors for good this winter. Colder weather, a decrease in holiday dining and the future actions of Congress are all looming factors for restaurant owners, the association said.

"A lot of these restaurants are in the red," said Kristine Hillmer, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

Hillmer has been part of a coalition to guide restaurants as they move the dining experience back indoors. She said social distancing is still a major requirement for restaurants hoping to have their dining areas open.

"It's safe to go out, to go out to eat -- that is going to be the biggest hurdle is that confidence. That people can go out have a wonderful dinner and be safe," said Hillmer. "It's not just that you can fill up every table and have it like it was before. It means you have to space tables out, you need to have gaps between groups at the bar."

Experts stress that the survival of some operations lies with the consumer.

"Patronize (businesses), keep them in business so when this is all over they are still here," Schnabl said.

Another way to help restaurants during these challenging times is giving them a call to figure out carryout and pickup options without using third-party delivery services; the money you spend then goes directly to the restaurant.