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Salt Lake County shuts down dine-in options at restaurants, bars

Utah businesses already struggling but officials warn it’s only ‘tip of the iceberg’

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Aaron Lloyd, manager at Rich’s Burgers-N-Grub in Salt Lake City, carries food to customers on Monday, March 16, 2020. Salt Lake County announced it would shut down all dine-in options for restaurants, taverns, bars, entertainment venues and clubs at 11 p.m. Monday in hopes of slowing the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Officials in Utah’s most population-dense county are shutting down all dine-in options for restaurants, taverns, bars, entertainment venues and clubs in hopes of slowing the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Salt Lake County health order, issued as county officials declared a public health emergency, came at the same time Gov. Gary Herbert, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and local business leaders announced efforts to help protect Utah business as the national economy continues to tank.

The order affects all retail and service-oriented businesses within Salt Lake County, the heart of the Wasatch Front. Takeout, curbside, drive-thru and delivery are all allowed, although delivery services are “drop service only.” All grocery stores and cafeterias are to eliminate seating areas “as well as any other opportunity to congregate.”

Restaurants will still be allowed to serve takeout with curbside pickup for customers, but dining rooms will be closed for the foreseeable future.

Utah has 41 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday. The shutdown order mirrors what Summit County officials ordered on Sunday.

“We can’t emphasize enough how important it is at this time that we band together as a community. Go to the grocery store in an orderly manner. Be patient. Be kind. Look for opportunities to help those in need. If we all work together we’ll be able to overcome the impacts of this virus,” said Dr. Rich Bullough, Summit County health officer. 

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Gov. Gary Herbert, left, listens as Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall discusses the economic impact of COVID-19 on local businesses and resources that are available to them during a press conference at the Chamber of Commerce Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 16, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Herbert, who Monday participated in a national conference call with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, announced he’s formed an “economic response task force” to work along with the state COVID-19 task force to help protect against a “significant economic downturn.”

The task force’s first meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday.

“These are unprecedented times, and they’re calling for unprecedented measures,” the governor said.

“We want people to feel comfortable and understand that things are going to get better,” he said, even though “we are going through a challenging time that’s going to impact and disrupt our lives.”

Herbert said officials at state and local levels “do not take these issues lightly” and they’re taking measures based on the advice of medical professionals and experts.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he said. “We need to do everything we can to get ahead of this and slow it down. If we do so, it will be certainly better for us in the long term.”

Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, who the governor appointed to the COVID-19 economic impact task force, said individual “health and well-being has been and always will be the priority” but “we must be equally vigilant in our efforts to protect the health and well-being of our economy.”

“It is prudent to enact preventative measures now, to take our proverbial medicine today to ensure economic health tomorrow,” Miller said.

Though the total economic impact of the coronavirus is currently unknown, Herbert said the state’s tourism and hospitality industries — hotels, restaurants and some retail stores — have already been hit hard.

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Henry Van Slooten and Natalie Van Slooten and other customers enjoy lunch at Spitz in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 16, 2020. Salt Lake County announced it would shut down all dine-in options for restaurants, taverns, bars, entertainment venues and clubs at 11 p.m. Monday in hopes of slowing the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Brian Reeder, one of the owners of Vessel Kitchen, a chain with restaurants in Park City, Midvale and Sandy, said they are currently operating at a loss.

“We’re trying to mitigate that just so our team continues to have work,” Reeder said.

Unlike other industries, working from home is not a viable option. And while Vessel Kitchen is operating curbside pickup, no one knows how profitable that will really be. 

Opening a restaurant was a lifelong dream for Brooks Kirchheimer, co-owner of Hearth and Hill, a Park City eatery. When he and his father finally realized that dream 15 months ago, preparing for a global pandemic wasn’t part of the equation. 

They’re trying to find ways to keep their business alive.

Hearth and Hill is also offering curbside pickup, but the number of staff required now is significantly lower. They usually have 20 to 30 hourly workers at a time. Now they have somewhere between one and three. 

“None of us have gone through this before,” Kirchheimer said. “All these are decisions looming, and I think for a lot of us, it’s like, ‘OK, how can we make the best one.’” 

Kaitlin Eskelson, CEO of Visit Salt Lake, an office at the Salt Palace Convention Center, said their offices have already been shuttered to help stop the spread, and employees there have already been furloughed.

“This is a very surreal and difficult time for us all,” Eskelson said.

She said there are many Utah hotels, restaurants and other businesses that are “facing the same difficult decisions” due to drastic amounts of cancellations. So far, seven citywide conventions planned for March, April and June have canceled events, she said, amounting to a total loss of $45 million in direct spending. Additionally, downtown hotels are reporting mass cancellations, estimating a loss of more than $4 million in revenue.

She said that’s likely “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Matt Caputo, president of Caputo’s Market & Deli, said the restaurant industry has already been hit hard as fewer patrons eat out — and they expect worse, anticipating more forced closures as time goes on. He urged Utahns to support local businesses, and not the online shopping giant Amazon.

“Jeff Bezos does not need your support,” he said. “Think about local business.”

Caputo also urged people to buy gift cards to help give businesses an immediate cash infusion, saying “you have no idea” how helpful they will be, especially for restaurant industry workers who live “paycheck to paycheck.”

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Gov. Gary Herbert, and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall talk after joining Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance President and CEO Derek Miller at a news conference at the Chamber of Commerce in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 16, 2020. The three discussed the economic impact of COVID-19 on local businesses and resources that are available to them.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Mendenhall, who noted federal funds won’t be available for a couple of weeks, announced she has asked the Salt Lake City Council to approve a $1 million financial aid package for Salt Lake City small businesses.

Mendenhall said of those Salt Lake businesses that participated in an online survey, 76% said they’ve already seen decreases in revenue of more than 10%.

“These are times that are certainly going to test our resolve as a community and the character of who we are as the people of Utah,” she said. “The time for government and the business community to act in unison is now.”

The mayor also urged landlords to exercise “financial patience” with tenants who may be late on on rent.

”Please be compassionate as you consider the impact of this crisis,” she said.

Herbert urged any Utahns who have lost their job or are facing reduced work hours, or need unemployment benefits, to get help available through the state’s Department of Workforce Services at www.jobs.utah.gov. Utahns can also call 801-526-WORK for help. 

Contributing: Sofia Jeremias