Bars, restaurants prep for first Vol football game since COVID-19

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The first Vols football game of the season is just a day away and local bar owners have no idea what to expect.

They do know this football season in their establishments will look differently with all the new COVID-19 guidelines, but they don’t know if fans will stay home or hang out in the bars to watch the game.

“Everybody wants to get back to normal, and of course football season’s part of that,” Joe Smith, owner of The Half Barrel, said.

Smith also owns Tapp’d and the Bearden Hill Fieldhouse.

He said the seemingly ever-changing guidelines has made business more stressful than usual, and harder to make money.

Smith said he has been limiting capacity inside his establishments, requires masks for entry and spread tables out to follow social distancing guidelines.

He said those guidelines will impact gamedays simply because he can’t have as many patrons inside.

However, the new 11 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants selling alcohol hit his business hard this past week.

“The 11 (p.m. curfew) seems to be more accommodating to your standard restaurants rather than your later night places. So, it has hurt. Sales are down 40 percent,” Smith said.

Smith said the curfew also impacts his employees, because they receive a lot of tips from the after 11 p.m. crowds.

Nathan Robinette, president of The Casual Pint, said he knew the new curfew hurt fellow bar owners, but it hadn’t impacted his establishments.

As of late, The Casual Pint has been closing at 8 p.m. every day.

Robinette doesn’t believe he’ll get much of a crowd for the game Saturday night, but he’ll be loyal to patrons who want to have a beer while watching the game at his bar.

“If we get a crowd coming in we’ll stay open and we’ll certainly accommodate our customers and our friends. I do anticipate a lot of package sales out the door tomorrow thinking people will probably stay home and hang out at the house. and do their tailgating and football festivities there,” Robinette said.

He said customers are more than welcome to fill a 6-pack, grab a growler or order online for their own tailgates at home if that’s there plans.

Robinette said he thinks afternoon games might bring him more business inside.

“This is unprecedented times for everyone, so I don’t know that we’re really certain what will happen, but as long as the University of Tennessee is on the football field, I think everybody will be really happy,” Robinette said.

With Smith owning some late-night bars, he’s unsure how everything will turn out with the later kick-off time.

If there are any delays, or if the Vols go into overtime, there’s a chance the game goes past 11 p.m.

“We don’t want to be, you know, out of compliance with the regulation or anything, but at the same time, you know, we don’t want to upset, you know, our customers who came to watch them play and want to stay until the end,” Smith said.

Smith said he doesn’t plan to immediately kick out patrons if that’s the case.

He hopes law enforcement will be understanding.

“Behind this particular regulation, you know, there’s come enforcement being utilized through the Knoxville Police Department to potentially cite, or more importantly, take people to jail,” Smith said.

Smith said KPD officers came to his bar a day or two after the new curfew was passed.

According to Scott Erland, spokesperson for KPD, said officers visited area establishments to hand deliver the new curfew order.

He said officers will continue to monitor bars and restaurants and take the appropriate action if violations occur.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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