‘It’s Just Brutal’ – Casper Bar Owners and Servers React to New COVID-19 Mandate

Her voice was shaking as she hung up the phone. She said that she was fighting back tears throughout the entire conversation.

This was because, for Laura Ryan, owner of The Beacon Club, as well as the countless number of other bar owners and managers in Casper, this was going to be a hard Christmas.

As if 2020 hasn’t been tiresome enough for the small business owner, Governor Mark Gordon recently announced a mandate that now requires all bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m. for on-site consumption.

For the owners themselves, this is a hardship. It’s inconvenient and it certainly hurts their overall income, even with assistance from the CARES Act. But, according to Ryan and various other bar owners across the state, it’s the employees, the servers, that are going to be affected the most.

“I don’t know what they’re afraid of,” Ryan said of the lawmakers who initiated the mandate. “We’re following all the rules and all this is doing is hurting my employees, right at Christmas time. They’re already struggling with shorter hours because we’re not very busy anyway and then, to have all this happen, right before Christmas – it’s just brutal.”

Governor Gordon instituted this new mandate, along with other measures designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 on December 7. In addition to the curfew, there is also a new mask mandate that requires individuals to wear face coverings indoors in public places.

Additionally, the mandate says that groups of patrons seated together at bars, restaurants, theaters, and other events will be limited to six, unless they are from the same household. Public gatherings that don’t utilize social distancing will be limited to ten people. Similarly, classes at gyms will be limited to ten people as well.

The biggest change, however, is the 10 p.m. curfew. Previously, bars could stay open until the usual 2 a.m. timeframe, as long as social distancing measures were met and masks were required for employees. Now, the new curfew essentially cuts out the peak hours for bars, which impacts the amount of money servers make from tips.

“The curfew is definitely very frustrating,” said Morgan Lee, owner of Frosty’s Bar. “Times are hard enough as is, especially for small businesses. We don’t see as many customers and the bar isn’t making much money. My bartenders and servers aren’t taking home what they’re used to either. And now I have to cut their shifts by several hours. Right before Christmas of all things. They’ve got families to feed, they’ve got Christmas presents to buy. So, on a business level, it’s scary and frustrating. But on a personal level to my employees, I don’t want to hurt their financial status either.”

Lee said that she just doesn’t see the logic in this decision and, in her mind, Governor Gordon hasn’t done a very good job explaining it.

“I would like an explanation as to what makes 10 p.m. any different than midnight or 2 a.m., especially when we already have a diminished capacity. What makes 10 p.m. any different than any other hour of the night?”

“My night shift is getting hit the hardest,” Ryan stated. “They only get two hours right now, when they’re used to a six-hour shift. And now, if we close at 10 p.m., they’re working from like, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., and they’re not going to make any money. I’ve got employees now looking for other jobs because they’re just not making any money. I’m going to lose a lot of my good employees.”

Olivia Liles is a bartender at The Gaslight Social and she emphasized the fact that, out of all the times to possibly enact this mandate, this was the worst.

“I’m just wondering if the Governor is going to pay my bills,” she said with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek. “Or if he’s going to supply funds to those whom I love and care about that could already barely afford to get presents for their children this year.”

Liles continued, saying that “Outside of the fact that this is already a stressful time of the year for everyone, those of us in the restaurant/bar industry are feeling it even harder, especially with this new restriction placed upon us. I know quite a few people who already didn’t think they were going to be able to celebrate the holiday properly, due to lack of funds. Now it just makes it even scarier for those people. It’s not only devastating; it’s terrifying as well.”

And, perhaps, that is the biggest emotion that service workers are feeling right now – terror. The fear of the unknown is always the deepest fear and, for a countless number of bartenders and servers, nothing is known at the moment. They don’t know how they’re going to pay their bills or feed their children or offer any semblance of a “normal” Christmas.

Tessa Coscino is another bartender that is directly affected by the curfew.

“I don’t believe the mandate will do much to stop the spread of COVID,” she said. “Closing bars early only stands to hurt the economy, as well as the owners and employees of our local bars, who are struggling enough as it is. The virus doesn’t get better or worse after 10 p.m. I believe there has to be a better way to help slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Some individuals in the restaurant/bar industry have taken to social media to express and process their emotions.


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