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Restaurants rush to expand outdoor seating after N.M. governor halts indoor dining

City of Farmington provides 33 canopies to help businesses
Several Farmington restaurants are working to expand outdoor dining options after the New Mexico governor issued an order closing indoor dining because of a rise in COVID-19 cases.

FARMINGTON – Restaurants in Farmington are scrambling to expand outdoor seating after the New Mexico governor issued a public health order halting indoor dining.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the prohibition on indoor dining last week, citing rising coronavirus cases in New Mexico and the bordering states of Arizona and Texas. The new restrictions, which took effect Monday, also close state parks to nonresidents and suspend contact sports for schools in the fall.

Previously, restaurants were allowed to operate with indoor dining at 50% capacity.

The city of Farmington has loaned 33 canopies to restaurants looking to expand their outdoor dining capacity. Offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, each restaurant was limited to two canopies and is responsible for any damages that occur to the canopies during the loan period.

The city said the restaurants can use the canopies until the state’s public health policy changes to allow indoor dining.

“Please remember restaurants providing outdoor dining must comply with occupancy limits and COVID-Safe practices the same as indoor dining,” the city announced as part of its canopy hand-out event. The city also provided an online calculator tool to determine how many tables each business could safely place outside.

The Farmington Chamber of Commerce is offering a free webinar on its Facebook page at 5 p.m. Thursday to help businesses use social media to reach customers during this time.

The change in dining policy has required many restaurants to become flexible.

Monica Shultz, owner of the Chile Pod, said she planned to pick up two canopies. The Chile Pod has not previously had an outdoor seating area, but with the canopies and the support of her neighboring businesses, Shultz said she plans to create a space for customers.

“Everything that has happened has had about a three-day turnaround, and it’s not much time,” she said. “Now, we’re trying to put outdoor dining together. We’re trying to see if it’s economically feasible.”

Si Señor announced this week it will provide service on its patio at 50% occupancy or curbside takeout from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The restaurant also parked a food truck in its parking lot to provide breakfast burritos.

“This isn’t an easy time for us or any restaurant right now,” the restaurant management said on its Facebook page.

The Studio Bake Shoppe in Artifacts Gallery announced it will reduce its hours to 8:30 a.m. to noon, have a limited selection of baked goods and provide a few tables near its back entrance.

Tara Taylor, co-owner of the gallery, said the last few months have required businesses to adapt.

“It’s a day-by-day or a week-by-week thing,” she said. “Rules are changing every week, and we try to modify and get creative.”

Many restaurants have expressed frustration about the public health orders and the struggle to adapt restaurant policies with limited notice.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association announced a virtual protest Monday. The organization asked restaurant owners to take a picture of employees, families and customers in front of their restaurants and post to social media with #LetUsServe.

The restaurant association said it wants to send a message to the governor that jobs across the state are on the line and this closure will be harder for many restaurants to weather.

Grisham’s public health order has limited exceptions, and during a news conference, she urged Texas residents to stay away from New Mexico until there is a vaccine or the spread of COVID-19 slows.

“We are at war with COVID-19,” Lujan Grisham said. “We lost a battle, I think, at Memorial Day weekend.”


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