‘Winter is coming, and a lot of doors are going to be shut’: Restaurant and bar workers in peril as weather grows cold and COVID-19 keeps spreading

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Outbreak Wisconsin chronicles people’s journeys through the coronavirus crisis, exposes failing systems and explores solutions.

Read more stories about Amy Moreland in this series, produced in collaboration with WPR.

Listen to Amy Moreland’s third audio diary, produced by Bridgit Bowden for WPR.

COVID-19 is walloping the service industry, forcing some bars and restaurants to permanently close their doors while others shut down for winter. 

Before the pandemic hit, Amy Moreland worked as a bartender and events coordinator in Madison, in many cases serving gatherings of 50 or more people. 

“Well, that’s canceled forever, or the foreseeable future,” she joked anxiously in an audio diary. 

Will Cioci / Wisconsin Watch

Amy Moreland stands outside the One Barrel Brewing Company bar, where she works as a bartender. Moreland was out of work for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was laid off in March and remained unemployed for several months. She has since  returned to bartending for two previous employers. But she serves far fewer patrons than before, considering Dane County’s 25% capacity limit on restaurants.

She works at one bar that doesn’t serve food, meaning it can only offer outdoor seating — all in the name of keeping people safe, Moreland said. 

Bars and restaurants have become a national focal point for clusters of COVID-19 infections. 

“We want to keep the employees safe. We want to keep our customers safe. We don’t want to be the cause of anybody getting COVID,” she said. 

But as weather grows colder, outdoor seating will lose its appeal, Moreland said. As summer turned to fall in Madison, she began to worry about the future. 

“Winter is coming, and all a lot of doors are gonna be shut,” she said. “A lot of your favorite restaurants and bars will not survive this winter.”

In Madison alone, several bars and restaurants have already announced permanent or temporary closures. Moreland worries more will close unless the county loosens restrictions on indoor dining. But that is unlikely unless COVID-19 stops spreading so widely.   

Wisconsin is among the country’s worst COVID-19 hotspots, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths skyrocketing since September. On Monday, Wisconsin surpassed 200,000 confirmed cases of the illness.  

Moreland said she is preparing for a bleak winter by saving any extra money she can.

“We’re all getting ready to be laid off again for a long time,” she said. 

The United States could lose as many as 85% of its independent restaurants by the end of 2020 without significant financial assistance, according to a June report from the Independent Restaurants Coalition.

“The service industry needs help,” Moreland said. “We need your help or we’re not going to survive this winter.” 

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