PRINCETON — What's a bar or restaurant owner to do as winter approaches and pandemic mitigations limit indoor service?
Barrel Society owner Nick Gorogianis is making the best of an ever-changing set of rules during the COVID-19 pandemic by setting up outdoor six-person enclosed spaces for his patrons.
Gorogianis spent about $2,000 purchasing three six-person enclosures for the front of his establishment and one larger enclosure to be set up weekends on his walled-in back patio area.
Gorogianis has kept ahead of COVID-19 mitigation efforts, mandating masks in his place for anyone entering or walking around the bar and bottle shop, and now he's taking it a step further to ensure the safety of his staff and patrons.
"What's challenging is we don't find out what the new rules are any faster than the public," he said.
"We weren't planning (the outdoor spaces), but we set the wheels in motion once counties around Chicago got stricter. We started looking for enclosures and planning to wall in the back patio with reinforced plastic and windscreens," he said.
Gorogianis says they'll allow no more than six people-per-enclosure and patrons must reserve a 90-minute spot. Stage guidelines suggest the 90-minute limit, he added.
"We're making reservations every two hours so we can have 30 minutes in between groups to sanitize all the surfaces," he said. "And we're limiting it to the group you came with, no mixing of groups once you make a reservation."
Gorogianis said with the recent addition of his bottle shop and carry-out orders he thinks he and girlfriend and bartender Gwen could have gotten through the season, but his bigger concern is making sure his remaining employees stay solvent during the cold season.
"We (myself and Gwen) could have sustained with the bottle shop, but I wouldn't be able to keep my bartenders, Jesse and Dale, going and that's not OK," he said.
Gorogianis said taking the extra steps is a no-brainer for him, but he doesn't always see the same effort townwide.
Speaking on the Mayor's recent statements that the city would not be enforcing indoor dining violations, Gorogianis said he's not in favor of that approach.
"It's irresponsible for many reasons. It's a target on the town because it makes people assume we're wide open and projects a vibe of recklessness with how serious this pandemic is.
"We are one of the businesses in town trying to follow the guidelines. Not doing it is just putting a target on the back of the town and it's going to have licenses at risk because it's going to draw inspectors here," he said.
"I'm doing it to keep the health and safety of everyone in mind so they can still enjoy themselves during a rough time. My customers know that I have their best interests in mind," he said.
"I hope this influences other businesses to get creative going forward."