By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer Published Jun 08, 2020 at 4:30 PM Photography: Lori Fredrich

After bars and restaurants reopened last Friday afternoon (June 5), packed patios were a common sight throughout the city. We definitely noticed, and maybe you did too.

And maybe you found yourself wondering (as we did): Is that really OK?  Turns out it’s not.

In everyone’s defense, confusion has been a hallmark throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as bars and restaurants struggle to interpret and enact guidelines presented to them by the city.

But we felt strongly that clarity on the 25% capacity rule – and whether it applies to patios – was important. After all, knowing what’s allowed (and what is considered to be safer) at this time is an important factor in the decisions diners and bar-goers make about patronizing local bars and restaurants.

So, we reached out to the City of Milwaukee Health Department for clarification.

According to clear information sent to us by marketing and communications officer Shawn Benjamin, the 25% capacity criteria applies to all restaurants and bars who are expected to follow the following guidelines, which are explicated in the City of Milwaukee Phase III Order and the order’s accompanying press release.

Clarified guidelines

1. Physical distancing and protective measures must be in place.

The following Physical Distancing and Protective Measure Requirements are required for all individuals on the premises (staff and patrons):

  • Maintain 6 feet distance between people/patrons
  • Promote and conduct hand hygiene with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as frequently as possible or using hand sanitizer
  • Promote covering of coughs or sneezes (into the sleeve or elbow or tissue not hands)
  • Regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces and sharing cleaning protocols with staff and patrons; Promote non-contact forms of greetings- no handshakes or hugs
  • Strongly recommend the use of a mask or cloth face covering. Businesses are allowed to require this as a policy to provide service. We recommend provision of single use masks/mouth coverings for staff and patrons.

2. Both bars and restaurants are restricted to an indoor capacity of 25% (specific language is below).

  • Restaurants can open to on site dining at a 25% of the occupancy limit.
  • Bars may open to onsite consumption at 25% of the occupancy limit

3. Outdoor spaces (including patios) are also limited to 25% capacity as outlined below.

Under the order, gathering sizes of 250 people or less [such as that in restaurants or bars] must meet the lesser of the two criteria outlined provided by the CDC below:

  • 25% of the total occupancy of the location established by the City of Milwaukee
  • One person for every 30 square feet of floor space open to the public

This large group gathering applies to establishments that have the space, safety protocol and best practices in place to meet these guidelines for physical distancing [see guidelines above]. If an establishment has an outdoor patio/outdoor space it would need to comply with the above criteria.

City webinars seek to provide clarity to guidelines

The City of Milwaukee will be holding a series of webinars for bars and restaurants beginning tomorrow to clarify plans under the Phase 3 Order. Registration is required.

According to the sign-up page, attendees will hear from Mayor Tom Barrett and City officials about the next phase in the Moving Milwaukee Forward Safely Plan.

  • Bar and restaurant owners and managers will learn more about:
  • What the city moving to Phase 3 means for them
  • How to safely return to indoor service
  • Keeping staff and customers safe, and
  • The city's expectations for inspections and enforcement.
  • The new Active Streets for Business outdoor dining initiative will also be covered
Lori Fredrich Senior Writer

Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.

Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon. 

Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.