Iowa bars and other establishments that serve alcohol will be allowed to open next Thursday, at half capacity.

Iowa Restaurant Association executive director Jessica Dunker says bars will be opening under the same sets of restrictions that restaurants currently have to follow during the pandemic.

“We’re actually working with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals and the governor’s office to put more guidelines out and to create an ‘Iowa Bar Promise,'” Dunker says.

Dunker’s organization helped develop the “Iowa Hospitality Promise” as Iowa restaurants reopened earlier this month — outlining some of the state public health protocols and steps restaurants are taking to protect employees and guests. Dunker says the governor’s previous proclamation loosening restrictions on restaurants was incredibly confusing to the public, since some restaurants that also served alcohol were allowed to open with sit-down traffic.

“It was not along the lines of receipts, like liquor liability insurance or the way cities define bars. It was about the way food is prepared,” Dunker says. “…We’re pleased that all establishments across the state will be treated equally and be able to open.”

It won’t be business as usual, though. Dunker says in order to reopen, bars will need to be prepared to meet every single mandate required.

“That means getting out the tape measure and having those tables six feet apart,” she says. “We strongly recommend that they go to our website, download signage that explains to people that they need to maintain social distance, that they know their occupancy numbers and modify their floor plans accordingly.”

Dunker says bar owners are going to have to be prepared to turn people away due to the 50 percent occupancy restriction and let their customers know the rules in place will be enforced.

“Across the state, we really have seen that people are anxious to get out and we’re asking everybody to be a good actor. This is not the time to not follow the rules and not follow the mandates,” Dunker says. “We’re going to reopen responsibly as an industry. We want everyone to have a fair shot and follow the rules.”

Dunker says it’s impossible for state regulators to write guidance for everything that goes on in a drinking establishment and customers should be prepared for changes in their favorite tavern or bar. Dance floors will stay closed and customers won’t be allowed to play pool or darts.

Dunker, who is a native of Mason City, made her comments during the weekly Cerro Gordo County COVID-19 press conference.

(By Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City)