State turns off tap at bars

TALLAHASSEE — The morning of June 26, Halsey Beshears, Florida’s secretary of the Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR), announced that effective immediately his department would be suspending on-premises consumption of alcohol at bars statewide.

The move came on the same day that the State of Florida added 8,942 new COVID-19 cases.

The order clarified that all vendors licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises who derive more than 50% of gross revenue from such sales of alcoholic beverages shall suspend such sales of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises. Restaurants and other establishments who earn more than 50% of their revenue from food would still be able to sell alcohol for on-site consumption.

The announcement came on the same day that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made the decision to close bars effective immediately and reduced capacity at restaurants starting on June 29.

Bars in Florida can still sell alcohol for pickup, though this can negatively affect the amount of tips given to bartenders and waitresses.

Kahootz Draft House in Okeechobee falls under the category of establishments that derive less than 50% of revenue from alcoholic beverages, so they’re still able to serve their customers as long as they aren’t seated at the bar. Still, Kahootz manager Lisa Watts says they’ve faced some adversity as well.

“It’s affected us here,” explained Lisa. “I’m not bringing home what I was before all this. Today I was busy, which was good. But I had to turn a few people away because we were at our capacity with having social distancing and people 6 feet apart. I know the clubs are getting hit really hard right now. They’re not able to do a lot of the benefits they did to help the community.”

One of the clubs being hit hard by the suspension of on-premise alcohol consumption is the Cypress Hut Fraternal Order of Eagles (FOE) in Okeechobee. The Cypress Hut Eagles would regularly hold benefits to raise money for a multitude of causes in the local community. With the order coming down on June 26 from the state government, the Eagle’s potluck benefits and other activities used to raise money are effectively shut down.

“We’ve lost over $10,000 from the first time we were shut down three months ago,” said Cypress Hut FOE trustee Brad Stark. “That’s money the community lost out on because organizations like ours raise money to donate back to our community.”

The Cypress Hut FOE donates to causes supporting cancer research, law enforcement and firefighters. Last year the club selected a local charity each month to donate proceeds to from their weekly “burger night.” This year, thanks to COVID-19 and state restrictions, those fundraising opportunities have been slim to none.

The club had just gotten the green light to open back up during the last week of June. Now, they’re shut down once again.

While they’ve lost ability to host fundraisers at their private club, the bills haven’t stopped.

“We still have to pay the bills at the club, rent and electricity,” explained Stark. “That money is going away. We’re hurting all the way around. We’re trying to get back on our feet again. And if we don’t soon, then a lot of these organizations like ours are going to be shut down. They aren’t going to be able to survive.”

Secretary Beshears went on to empathize with those hurt by the new order with a post on his Twitter following the announcement.

“Nothing I say or do will stop the pain small business owners are feeling,” read the post. “I empathize and understand. I’ve been there. It’s more than you, it’s your employees and the families they support. I’ll keep taking the hate, if it makes any of you feel better.”

“This decision was not a knee jerk reaction,” continued the post, “nor was it made lightly, but based on evidence and the correlation in spikes after phase 2 reopening. We will get it right, then get people back to work ASAP.”

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