Bowling Green dine-in restaurants, bars adapt to customer restrictions

The Great American Donut Shop in Bowling Green moves to accepting takeout orders only on March 16, 2020, closing off their dining area after Gov. Andy Beshear orders all restaurants to close to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Michael J. Collins

Gov. Andy Beshear announced Monday that restaurants and bars statewide had until 5 p.m. to close indoor dining in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus. The decision forced Bowling Green restaurants to prepare for possibly two weeks of shutdown.

Restaurants are permitted to serve take-out, drive-through and delivery services but cannot seat customers inside. Several other states have implemented similar dine-in bans, including Indiana and Ohio.

Beshear expressed sympathy in a press release for Kentucky businesses that would take a hit from the closure but emphasized the importance of avoiding the spread of coronavirus.

“We are asking so many people to make sacrifices,” Beshear said. “It is not lost on me that most of these are small businesses. We are going to do everything we can to be there for you. We realize the impact this will have and we will be there for you.”

In Bowling Green, restaurants served the last customers they could before closing for the foreseeable future.

A bartender at Hilligan’s Sports Bar answered the phone with, “Hilligan’s, it’s the end of the world,” before giving the phone to Ashley Bland, general manager at the restaurant. 

“The governor ordered us to shut down by 5 o’clock today, so we’ll be closing then,” Bland said. “We’re not worried. We’ll make it through this, but for now there’s nothing to be done.”

The bar will not be providing orders to-go and will remain shut down until the order is lifted. Bars and music venues that cannot provide take-out service are essentially forced to shut down.

Spencer’s Coffee in downtown Bowling Green saw a decrease in traffic after the order but remains open to take-out orders.

Justin Shepherd, owner of Spencer’s Coffee, said he doesn’t fear long-term effects on the coffee shop but worries about the short-term effect on workers and the economy.

“We’ve been open almost 20 years now,” Shepherd said. “We don’t have a lot of debt, and we’re in a decent position to weather this. Our concern really is more for our staff, some of whom don’t want to come to work and some who won’t get the same number of hours as before, but we’re working with them on solutions to that.”

Restaurants and workers statewide will be receiving compensation for the business and wages lost while closed, but it is unclear exactly how much the state and federal government plan to reimburse.

“We’re in full support of everything that’s been done at a state and local level, and I think our leaders are doing their best to deal with what’s obviously a once in a lifetime situation,” Shepherd said.

Great American Donut Shop saw heavy traffic this weekend after a Facebook post circulated claiming the business was seeing dwindling customers amid coronavirus fears. The event came just days before the dine-in ban was implemented.

Yan Tan, owner and manager of GADS, was excited to see an influx of customers due to the post and plans to still provide carry-out under Beshear’s new rule.

“It was slow before we had the Facebook rally to support GADS; we had a pretty good turnout for that,” Tan said. “Right now we’re just following the governor’s mandate that no one can eat inside, so it’s only take-it-and-go.”

While the change in traffic and lack of students on campus will likely impact GADS, Tan is positive they will endure the dine-in ban.

“We’re fortunate to be able to offer take-out and stay open doing that, but we look forward to seeing coronavirus ended,” Tan said.

A number of other events have been affected as well, including The Kentucky Derby, which was rescheduled for Sept. 5. Several colleges have also transitioned to online courses for the rest of the semester, including WKU, the University of Kentucky and Berea College. 

Up to date reports show 26 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection across 8 counties, including Jefferson, Fayette and Harrison.

News reporter Michael J. Collins can be reached at [email protected].