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8 New Things You'll See in Bars When They Reopen

Next time you're out for a cocktail, bars are going to look very different.

When the weekend rolls around, nothing feels as relaxing as hitting up some bars with a group of friends and catching the game. Even the occasional happy hour after work with colleagues helps break up the week, giving us a chance to blow off some steam. We may still have virtual happy hours or socially-distant drinks with neighbors these days, but it just doesn't feel the same.

As states begin to lift social distancing restrictions, we can finally return to our favorite bars and celebrate summer right. Yet while our local watering holes start opening up, we shouldn't assume we're out of the woods yet. Many establishments still don't permit full occupancy and the ones that have opened require hefty amounts of space between patrons. We can expect some major transformations to the bar scene nationwide and while these predicted alterations might seem bizarre or uncanny, we can still have a fun night out as long as we brace for these eight major bar changes.

Take-our drink options

takeout drinks

Going out to the bar means cozying up on a stool, sipping on your favorite cocktail or beer, watching the game, and shooting the breeze with your friends. If you take away all of these elements, can you still call this a bar experience?

Due to patron occupancy limitations and tighter sanitation standards, many dive bars and lounges haven't had the ability to seat customers, but a handful of these businesses have found a way to at least let you take some of their house drinks home to enjoy. Since COVID-19 turned life upside down, many establishments began offering to-go drinks, in much the same way restaurants serve carry-out or delivery.

This model of drink service has proven effective and has even kept businesses afloat during the past few months, despite having to shutter their dining-in services for the time being. With restrictions still tight and staffing low, we should expect many bars to press on with this model even after seating areas open up.

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Sanitizing stations

sanitizing station

Since coronavirus struck, hand sanitizing stations have popped up at the front of pharmacies, grocery stores, and everywhere in between. Bars and restaurants have also implemented this required change in order to reopen and seat customers in many states. We should expect this change to stick around and become part of the cleanliness ritual before imbibing in any of our favorite alcohols.

Many bars that have opened at limited capacity have already begun to implement this change in order to keep the infection curve flattened. As states begin to enter new phases of business activity, we should expect to see the inclusion of more hand sanitizing stations as a baseline change in order for these establishments to stay open.

More outdoor drinking areas

large group bar

Nothing feels quite like summer than enjoying some drinks on the patio of a restaurant, rooftop bar, or in an open courtyard under a starry sky. If you love these locales but fear you won't get to take part in these quintessential seasonal activities, we have some good news for you—open-air drinking helps keep the spread of coronavirus down by preventing the circulation of air and germs seen in tight, dimly lit bars. Bars that have open-air capabilities have a keen advantage when it comes to full reopening, as it is easier to space people out and keep everyone germ free. According to the CDC, these outdoor areas also provide one of the safest dine-in experiences.

With a push for these kinds of styles of bars to open, we might even see an expansion of businesses that accommodate outdoor seating, even if they once had no previous outdoor spaces. Certain areas of the country have already seen a relaxation of liquor law enforcement and more people have been able to drink in outdoor areas zoned by the restaurant or bars. In order to keep business thriving, we should expect to see even more bars accommodate outdoor drinking areas to keep the cash flow moving in.

Friday night takeaway kits

to-go bag

Take-away drinks are fun, but bringing a cocktail home with you has its limitations. You may wonder how you can recreate the full feel of the bar at home or how to transform your living room into your favorite club. The search is over, as some bars have started selling Friday Night Takeaway Kits that not only feature a selection of cocktails, but also music mixes and other goodies to make you feel like you are kicking the night off right.

When bars reopen, many have to keep their doors closed tight, especially those made to host dance parties, karaoke nights, and other club events. Even when these spots open, it just won't be the same dancing to the hits with only a handful of strangers that you have to maintain a safe distance from. These kits may provide a new way in which clubs and dance venues stay financially afloat. In the meantime, bring the dance party home and don't count on much close dancing action with strangers.

Temperatures taken at the door

temperature check

Many businesses have required temperatures of patrons to be taken to ensure no one with active COVID-19 cases enter and infect other healthy patrons. We have seen this precaution at several restaurants, but bars may lead the temperature-taking when a larger scale reopening occurs.

As more dive bars and small drinking establishments open, this precaution might become a standard in order to even operate. It's hard to argue against this new safety standard—after all, who wants to have a drink next to someone running a fever?

Socially distanced tables

socially distanced tables

If you opt to have a night out and hit the bars, don't expect to roll up to the bar and place an order so easily. With 6 feet minimum distances still firmly in place, broadly-spaced tables will be a standard we should expect to see in all bars.

This same limitation also keeps large parties in check—many small bars don't have the capacity to seat parties of eight or more while keeping groups legally distanced. We might also begin to see more table service to take drink orders to prevent people from congregating at the bar waiting for the bartender. Brace for a bar experience that may actually feel more like a restaurant after COVID-19. A trip out to the bar could transform to become a slightly more formal affair, rather than the casual meetup feel of bars past.

No live music

live music

Nothing feels as quintessential of a bar experience like loudly talking to your friends over cover bands or sitting back and sipping a drink while listening to a house pianist play some smooth jazz. Sadly, these iconic bar experiences won't be making a comeback anytime soon when the bars do reopen.

Musicians have been one of the hardest economically hit groups during lockdown, as venues have ceased programming live music. The reopening of bars won't be kind to this group—many performers opt to not sing through facemasks and many bands can't stay six feet apart on cramped bar stages. Solo musicians should expect to face tough times too, as many bars and lounges won't have the capacity to pay them due to decreased profits and the limitation on staff members able to work the space at any given time. For now, we need to come to terms with a much quieter nightlife scene until restrictions lift even further.

Reduced drinking areas


When you think of the trendiest bars in your area, some of them might have several floors that contain games, a dancefloor, multiple drinking areas and more. With new precautions in place upon reopening, we should expect the majority of these spaces remain closed off to the public.

In order to limit the transmission of disease, keeping groups contained remains priority number one, and a big way to mitigate the spread of germs is by controlling where the drinking crowd can move. As a result, many larger bars will shut down portions of their space to accommodate the new rules and keep occupancy at legal limits. It might be some time before these larger clubs and bars open up again, but when they do, no one will stop the party!

Eat This, Not That! is constantly monitoring the latest food news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer your most urgent questions). Here are the precautions you should be taking at the grocery store, the foods you should have on hand, the meal delivery services and restaurant chains offering takeout you need to know about, and ways you can help support those in need. We will continue to update these as new information develops. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.
Erich Barganier
Erich Barganier is a health and food writer. Read more about Erich
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