The Texas Restaurant Association (TRA) has released a proposal it hopes will persuade Gov. Greg Abbott to allow bars across the state to reopen as soon as Friday.

In a briefing Tuesday, TRA officials said they felt it was the right time to reopen the state’s 5,500 bars, which have been closed 53 days. The association estimates the closures have affected 75,000 jobs.

With a group of bar owners and operators, the TRA developed the Texas Bar Promise, a set of guidelines for bars and customers to follow that include social distancing, hand sanitizing, and disinfecting bar facilities. The association submitted the document to Abbott’s task force charged with reopening Texas businesses following a series of closures meant to control the spread of the coronavirus in the state.

Abbott permitted restaurants to open May 8 at 25 percent capacity. Food and drink establishments that generate more than 51 percent of their sales from alcohol are considered bars and were not allowed to reopen.

“We felt like it was really important for us to reach out to our colleagues in the bar sector, and offer them some leadership and some guidance and give them a forum to share their ideas,” said Emily Williams Knight, TRA president and CEO. “We know [the task force is] looking at it, they did confirm that, and so we’re hoping to hear something hopefully very shortly with news on when they can reopen and what that plan might look like.”

The governor said he would consider increasing restaurant capacity to 50 percent and opening other types of businesses Monday, May 18. No press conference had been scheduled by the governor as of Tuesday afternoon.

But Knight said opening Friday would give bar owners the opportunity to have a “soft opening” through the weekend as the governor evaluates hospitalization data in preparation for opening more businesses.

“We know that by May 18, [the governor] hopes to be in phase two, so we went with a date that we thought would be good for bars but also aligned typically to where he might make a decision based on the data across the state,” Knight said.

The governor needed a game plan for reopening bars, said Kelsey Erickson Streufert, TRA’s vice president of government affairs and advocacy, and TRA had the experience to develop a plan.

“We’ve really had the benefit of seeing how restaurant reopening is going and taking lessons learned from that and carrying it over into [the bar] industry,” “I think the key themes that you’ll see in the Texas Bar Promise are similar to the Texas Restaurant Promise, and social distancing and sanitation are going to be key.”

The Texas Bar Promise is similar to a set of safety proposals that the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance (TBNA) submitted in April as it pushed the governor to allow bars to open in phase one of reopening the state.

“I think the fact that the governor hadn’t reopened bars yet, despite that proposal being submitted, told us that they didn’t quite match what the governor was after – that he wasn’t comfortable that those were the right steps,” said Streufert.

San Antonio bar owner Steve Mahoney said he is ready to reopen on Friday. Mahoney owns Francis Bogside, Tucker’s, Hanzo, George’s Keep, Blue Box, and Lilly’s Greenville. Since closing March 17, some of his establishments have been open for takeout of food and beverages, allowing him to keep 15 of his 70 workers on the payroll.

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Mahoney said he has been preparing to fully reopen for weeks, ordering face masks and coronavirus tests for employees.

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“When they came out with the guidelines a couple of weeks ago, that’s when we started ramping up on all that, so we’re prepared to reopen any day,” he said. “All we would need is maybe a day or two notice.”

On May 8, Mahoney received a message from the TBNA encouraging bar owners to hold a soft opening on Friday with employees only and no patrons. “The soft opening is a first step in exerting our constitutional rights as tax-paying citizens in the great state of Texas,” wrote Quincy Barnes, executive director of TBNA.

But Mahoney has no plans to open his doors without official approval, he said. “If it’s not condoned by the governor’s office, we’re not doing it.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is a journalist and writer in San Antonio, and a business reporter for The Rivard Report.