Staying open to stay in business

Restaurant owners have mixed feelings about 5-Star certification

Deb Hurley Brobst
dbrobst@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/20/21

While some restaurant owners hope Colorado’s 5-Star certification program will help them weather the COVID-19 storm, others are on the fence about whether it would be good for their eateries. …

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Staying open to stay in business

Restaurant owners have mixed feelings about 5-Star certification

Posted

While some restaurant owners hope Colorado’s 5-Star certification program will help them weather the COVID-19 storm, others are on the fence about whether it would be good for their eateries.

Evergreen and Conifer restaurant owners say — whether they have the certification or not — they are working hard to keep their patrons safe, and they have implemented cleaning and social distancing protocols. They hope people will visit their establishments either in person or by ordering take-out meals.

The 5-Star certification provides assurances that businesses are sanitizing areas, having patrons wear masks when not eating or drinking, keeping tables further apart for social distancing and keeping track of patrons for contact tracing if someone should contract the virus.

However, it’s a one-size-fits-all program, and not all restaurants fit the mold. Some owners are concerned requirements to maintain the certification could keep patrons away and going from 25% to 50% capacity for small restaurants isn’t worth the time, money and hassle of getting the certification.

In fact, Nick Bandemer with The Wild Game has suggested that the 5-Star certification should have two tiers with different requirements for smaller and larger restaurants.

So far, Snowpack Taproom in Conifer, and Cactus Jack’s Saloon and Grill and The Wild Game in Evergreen have received their 5-Star certifications. Other restaurants are sending in applications and getting inspections set up by county health inspectors. Still, others are deciding that the program is not for them.

“For some, this is a great program,” said Melanie Swearengin, executive director of the Conifer Area Chamber of Commerce. “For some, it’s not going to be. If there’s anything we can do to get businesses open, we will do that.”

She noted that area restaurants are still safe for customers even if they don’t apply for the certification.

“Restaurants need to determine what works best for them,” said Nancy Judge, president of the Evergreen Area Chamber of Commerce.

Easing restrictions

The 5-Star certification — and the benefits of having it — will go into effect when Jefferson County meets all of the criteria for Level Orange on the COVID-19 dial. At this point, the county still has too many cases per 100,000 residents. However, Gov. Jared Polis has allowed restaurants to operate at Level Orange, which is 25% capacity, not to exceed 50 people per room.

Once Jefferson County reaches Level Orange, then those restaurants with the 5-Star certification may operate at Level Yellow, which means they can have 50% capacity, not to exceed 50 people per room.

A case for certification

Restaurant owners said going through the process is a small price to pay if they can bring more people in their doors, aiding in the businesses’ survival. They said they’re barely hanging on.

Bandemer said the lengthy and intense process was necessary, especially for a business that is an entertainment center, not just a restaurant. He said the 5-Star certification sends a message that the location is clean and safe.

“It sends a message to people who are very cautious about leaving their homes, afraid of catching coronavirus, that we are taking extra steps to keep them safe,” Bandemer said, noting that his staff members still have confrontations with customers who don’t want to wear masks.

Mike Thompson, owner of Snowpack Taproom, said the certification instills confidence in people that they are safe when dining.

“We have the space for it, and we’re well equipped, and staff is well trained,” he said.

Judge said on the plus side, the 5-Star certification can safeguard restaurants to at least maintaining 25% capacity if restrictions tighten again.

Not so sure

Other restaurant owners said even though they are struggling too, their space is so small that going from 25% to 50% capacity is negligible. Plus, 5-Star certification requires temperature checks for all customers, and customers must provide contact information in case contact tracing is necessary.

The biggest concern among restaurant owners, Judge said, is how the public will respond to having to provide their contact information for contact tracing. Owners don’t want this requirement to deter people from coming in.

People in the foothills are private and aren’t forthcoming with personal information, several owners said.

Some restaurant owners are concerned about enforcing the certification’s mask-wearing requirements, which stipulate that masks to be worn unless customers are actively eating or drinking. So masks must be worn while people are waiting for food and if they linger after they’re done eating.

“We don’t know what to do,” said Dave Schaefer, owner of Brooks Place Tavern in Aspen Park. “We have seating outside, which helps. Maybe (the state will) lighten up restrictions anyway, and we won’t have to worry about 5-Star certification.”

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