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Considerations for Bars and Nightclubs Amidst COVID-19

The Florida authorities are laying down the law for bars, nightclubs, pubs, and other alcohol vendors as the state continues to struggle to contain the virus. Contract tracing efforts by public health officials are demonstrating that certain activities are playing a major role in the ongoing spread of COVID-19. The younger generations that are eager for a night out are carelessly causing new hot spots all over the country. The late nights, lack of inhibitions, and close contact that come hand-in-hand with the bar or nightclub experience are contributing to the outbreak—and the consequences are severe.

“As communities open up, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the indoor bar scene is uniquely suited to the transmission of Covid-19” (via New York Times).

So why are all eyes on bars and nightclubs, and not other public places such as restaurants? Bars usually have less square footage, fewer windows, and a more limited ventilation system than restaurants. Loud music and conversation also cause people to talk louder and more closely—two actions that are proven to transmit the virus more effectively than even a cough. Also, the consumption of alcohol is simply not compatible with masks and leads to decreased inhibitions in regard to social distancing.

“Unlike restaurants where small groups stay at their own tables, bar patrons often linger and mix with one another for hours as drinks dull their caution, including about masks and social distancing. Even the conversations that animate so many evenings at bars — the laughs, the boasts, the stories, and jokes — can release 10 times as many particles as a cough.” (via Sun Sentinel).

These factors are causing an alarming increase in the rate of infection in young adults, particularly in college towns across the country. While the people who are getting infected at bars and nightclubs are younger with a lower risk profile, they pose a serious threat to older generations and other vulnerable populations that they come into contact with. Now, the authorities are taking action and business owners are faced with challenging circumstances.

Florida authorities recently issued a statewide ban on the consumption of alcohol at bars and nightclubs in response to a number of complaints that owners and managers were not enforcing the necessary precautions. Now, businesses that earn over 50% in revenue from alcohol sales must stop serving alcohol at their premises, according to an emergency order issued by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation DBPR).

I’m a bar owner, what are my options?

If businesses want to avoid another round of total lockdowns, it’s essential that they adapt to the “new normal” and uphold regulations within their establishments. If your business is unable to adhere to new rules and guidelines, then it’s time to get creative. Do you stay closed and declare bankruptcy or reopen with innovative ways to do business during this time?

Consider implementing measures like headcounts, temperature checks, mandatory masks, gloves, and pauses for cleaning/sanitizing. Move patrons outside when you can and keep music levels low. You can also explore expanding your food menu or offer take out options for sealed cocktails on the go. And for your patrons who can’t follow the rules, excuse them from your premises immediately before the authorities are notified. If your business is caught in violation, you can face charges punishable by hefty fines and even jail time.

“Florida residents filed an additional 224 complaints from May 11 through May 26 with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) as Florida’s reopening expanded to include Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties” (via Tallahassee Democrat).

We’re here to help

In the same way that it’s your responsibility to keep the floors clean to prevent slips and falls, it’s your responsibility to keep your employees and patrons safe from the spread of the virus. Don’t expose yourself to the liability of a complicated personal injury case just to keep your operations running. If your business has been forced to close its doors, it might be time to seek legal counsel. There may be contract terms that we can negotiate in order to help you ride this storm.

Whether you need to terminate a lease or reconfigure your business, a competent attorney can support you during the process. We can evaluate the language of your existing contracts and identify certain clauses – such as a force majeure or regulatory taking – that relate to the unique situation that your business is facing.

For example, if the state has closed the interior portion of your restaurant or bar, you may only be responsible for a fraction of your lease if the rest of the property is subject to a regulatory taking. Every contract uses different language and sometimes you can get creative in order to reach an agreement. Landlords should be open to negotiating a deal because, from their perspective, it’s better to have a reimagined tenant than no tenant at all.

There are legal tools that are available for you to create a better situation. If you feel like you’re stuck and not sure what your next move should be, get in touch with our team for a free consultation. Although you’re anxious to reopen, it’s essential that you remain sensitive to the fact that you can face liability if you’re inviting people onto your property and they aren’t safe, either because of the configuration or the steps you’re taking. We’re in a new world and we need to figure out how to make it work together.