How to respond to coronavirus / COVID-19 if you run a local bar or lounge

Important PPP update for 2021

On December 22, 2020, Congress passed a bill renewing funding under the CARES Act, including an additional $284 billion earmarked for America’s struggling small businesses. The rules and application process for PPP loans and forgiveness have been modified, with more businesses eligible for PPP loans, more expenses forgivable, and a simplified application process. Also there is provision for “second draw” PPP loans for businesses that received PPP funding in 2020.


In this 6-minute read:

  • A guide from the SBA
  • Emergency funding options
  • How to guide your staff
  • Emphasize a clean environment
  • Put a future game plan in place

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading further and impacting more people and businesses, it’s important to make sure that your bar or lounge is prepared to handle the impacts. 

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Through this guide, we’ll provide expert guidance from the SBA and CDC on how to keep your facilities clean and your employees and customers healthy. We’ll also provide some suggestions for how you can keep cash flowing during this time (assuming your state hasn’t closed bars and lounges temporarily).

SBA’s guide for businesses and employers

The U.S. Small Business Administration has put created a helpful guide for businesses and employers regarding the issues related to COVID-19. Familiarize yourself and your employees with these recommendations so you know what to expect. 

Economic Injury Disaster Loan program

If your bar or lounge is experiencing severe loss in revenue due to the coronavirus (many locations have ordered restaurants and bars closed to in-person patronage), and you are in a state or territory that qualifies, the SBA is offering disaster assistance via the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. 

Go deeper: SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans: how to apply if you’re impacted by COVID-19

Guidance for bar owners and managers

The SBA has outlined several issues that bar owners and other small businesses are likely to face during this crisis: 

  • Difficulty getting accessing adequate funds and supplies due to increased demand across the nation’s supermarkets and wholesalers
  • Difficulty serving customers if employees are impacted by COVID-19
  • Inventory may run low. Try to maintain enough supplies on hand to handle any increased demand or spikes in traffic
  • Increased sanitization of your facility, which can result in greater costs for supplies
  • Insurance: Consult with your insurance agent to confirm coverage and know what limits you have
  • Marketing and communications issues: Work to keep customers updated about changes to your business, hours, etc. 
  • Making a plan to help you move forward (more on this to come)

Tips for managing your staff  

If your business is able to remain open at this time, it’s important to maintain healthy guidelines and policies, particularly for those who may be handling food and drinks for your customers. 

Consider the things that are going on right now in your community too. Are schools closed? Is the virus spreading through your community? 

Stay flexible with your employees in helping them manage their home life and family situations. They may need to spend more time taking care of kids who are out of school, going grocery shopping during low-traffic times, and taking care of sick family members. This situation is already stressful enough, so don’t make it worse by forcing employees to show up to work. 

Follow the CDC’s guide for business and employers

The CDC has crafted a guide for businesses and employers to consult when managing your employees. These are especially important for anyone that handles food, dishes, or money. 

Encourage sick workers to stay home. People who are showing signs of respiratory illness or a fever of 100.4° F or higher should remain home until they are sure they have been symptom-free for at least 24 hours. Get tested if/when testing kits are available.

Separate sick employees from others and send them home. If any of your employees start to show signs of a fever or respiratory illness while on the job, they should be sent home immediately. Keep them separated from other workers and patrons and be sure to promptly sanitize their workstation and all areas of contact

Encourage proper respiratory behavior and proper hand hygiene. Now is more important than ever to ensure proper hygiene from your employees and customers. Place handwashing and respiratory behavior signs throughout your location as a reminder. 

Perform routine cleaning.  Regularly sanitize areas that are frequently touched by employees and customers. This may include door handles, chairs, barstools, countertops, tables, and other items. 

Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps. If your employees are traveling anytime soon, make sure they are aware of the CDC’s guidelines and that they check for signs of respiratory illness before they leave and when they return. Certain areas may require self-quarantine. 

Direct these employees to the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest travel guidance. 

Prepare for potential increases in employee absences

You may see a drop in employee attendance as the virus makes its way into your community. Try to be flexible and understanding in these situations. 

Identify essential roles for your business that must be met during this time: sanitizing the facility, paying bills, and meeting customer orders, for example. Make sure you have staff on hand for these priority roles. 

Put extra emphasis into sanitizing your bar or lounge

Sanitization is especially important right now, and your employees and customers should be aware of this and have the proper resources available to help you maintain a clean facility. If bars and lounges are currently closed in your area, notify employees about any changes in procedure.

Here are some ways that your customers and employees can help keep the environment of your bar clean and healthy:

  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds after a break, after using the restroom, and before and after eating
  • Clean surfaces regularly: door handles, counters, stools, chairs, etc.
  • Keep the bar counter and any kitchen surfaces cleaned between orders
  • Have hand sanitizer readily available at tables and the bar

These precautions are a good idea to implement anyway, but particularly during this crisis.

hand sanitizer station at local bar

Prepare a future game plan for your bar or lounge

We don’t know what the future holds, but as businesses are starting to close temporarily, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place to deal with the unexpected. 

Are you expecting business to drop?

As a non-essential business, you’re likely going to see a drop in business, which might make it difficult to make ends meet. 

If you are facing serious revenue loss and need additional assistance to keep the lights on, then you might consider one of these options:

Read more: Emergency funding options for small businesses

Stay in contact with your customers

As your business goes through tough times, be sure to keep your customers informed. If your hours change or your business temporarily closes, you need to get that info out there. 

You can keep your customers up to date by:

Maintain a positive outlook and share that positivity with your customers. We all need this during times of crisis. Share positive messages and, if you are open, show that you are still available to help your customers. 

Think outside the box

As people are receiving guidance from national authorities to stay indoors and away from crowds, you may need to get a little creative if you want to keep business going at this time. 

Does your bar serve food? People still need and want food, and this can be a great opportunity to keep sales moving. Offer delivery services or curbside pickup to your customers to encourage more sales and keep providing quality service. 

car at curbside pickup for local bar and grill

Continue to engage in marketing efforts by creating special deals and promotions to encourage people to put in more takeout/curbside liquor orders (if legal in your area). 

You may also like: How to get your restaurant started with delivery or carry-out during COVID-19

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