First, Bread and Circus switched to take-out only when the coronavirus pandemic hit Sioux Falls in March.
Then owners closed the downtown restaurant for seven weeks as cases spiked.
They switched from patio dining only to limited capacity inside and then started requiring masks among all customers earlier this week.
The restaurant has been taking the pandemic one week at a time, and they’re not alone.
Although the Sioux Falls City Council passed a mask mandate for businesses and city facilities Tuesday, the unenforceable mandate means little will change for businesses that have been making their own decisions on how to handle the pandemic for the past eight months, said co-owner Barry Putzke.
Restaurants throughout Sioux Falls have adjusted dining practices over the year as they see fit for the needs and risks of their customers.
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“It’s one of those things where you either make decisions that help you sleep better at night or decisions that help your bottom line,” Putzke said. “It’s up to the business.”
No simple answers
The Sioux Falls City Council voted 6-2 to approve an ordinance mandating masks inside businesses and city facilities Tuesday, but without any penalty for violation.
The vote came a week after a similar mandate failed, which originally had a $50 fee recommended for violation.
The mandate, which takes effect Saturday, Nov. 21, requires the wearing of a face covering inside “indoor retail businesses” and city-owned facilities where social distancing of six feet cannot be achieved.
“I have a hard time understanding what it’ll do,” Putzke said.
Although the mandate doesn’t have an enforcement to require compliance, it does back up businesses that choose to enforce a mask policy.
“It doesn’t really move the needle a lot, but it does move it in the right direction,” Putzke said. “At this point, it’s just an embarrassment, the situation we’re in in South Dakota.”
For Jennie Doyen, from the Greater Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, the mandate is one tool of many that Sioux Falls and South Dakota communities can use to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
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“From the business and Chamber perspective, there isn’t one single answer,” Doyen said. “We need to work on a lot of fronts.”
Leaning toward safety
South Dakota, as a state, doesn’t mandate any COVID-19 precautions, but it does recommend social distancing between restaurant tables, limiting parties to less than six people and encouraging the use of masks for customers and employees.
Per the CDC, the lowest risk of coronavirus spread is through take-out and curb-side pick up for restaurants and stores. Higher risk includes indoor seating with at least 6 feet apart, and the highest risk includes indoor or outdoor seating without socially distanced tables.
If there is a confirmed case among a restaurants’ employees, the state recommends closing for a period of time.
John Osburn, assistant for the office of health protection, leads the state’s team aiming to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at workplaces and businesses across the state.
Without enforcing mandates in Sioux Falls, whether masks or closures or social distancing, it’s up to business owners how they serve their customers, and it’s up to customers to choose to support businesses and wear their own masks, Osburn said.
Several customers have told Putzke and his employees that they chose Bread and Circus because of the extra safety precautions implemented at the restaurant and its outdoor patio space.
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“Customers are much more willing to keep a jacket on and sit outside and be a little bit colder than what hey used to be doing,” Putzke said. “To keep that going for them is a nice boost and helps justify some of our decisions and reinforce what to do with it.”
The restaurant plans to incorporate a three-season tent later in the year around the patio to further accommodate patio seating.
Keeping customers informed
According to Doyen, several Sioux Falls businesses follow CDC guidelines.
“They want to make sure they have healthy customers and employees, and they want to stay open,” Doyen said. “They want both of those things and have to find the best way to implement the guidelines to meet those goals.”
The chamber partnered with the city and the Sioux Falls Development Foundation to publish a list of businesses who’ve signed a voluntary pledge to institute COVID-19 mitigation measures.
“The pledge is about more than just masking. The pledge outlines several specific actions that we’re asking businesses to take and they’re all in line with CDC guidelines,” Doyen said. “The Safer Sioux Falls pledge is relevant regardless of what action the city council did or did not take.”
The list, and a map of businesses that have taken the pledge, is a tool for businesses to let customers know that they’re taking steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
It’s also a tool for customers to choose which businesses they want to support, Doyen said.
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“Heading into the holiday shopping season, that list will be a resource for people,” she said. “I can say with confidence that there will be people who use that guide to decide where they spend their dollars.”
The list is voluntary for businesses to sign up, and it’s not limited to Chamber members.
Although Bread and Circus isn’t on the list of businesses yet, Putzke said the restaurant is taking every effort it can to ensure its employees and customers are safe — even if that means having to close down on-site eating again.
“We’re just trying to stay fluid and stay on top of things,” Putzke said.