Bars, restaurants now hiring as capacity limits rise ahead of NCAA tourney

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Bars and restaurants in Indianapolis can soon seat more people and stay open later after Mayor Joe Hogsett and the Marion County Public Health Department announced new COVID-19 restrictions on Thursday.

This change brings in another reason to celebrate March Madness in Indianapolis. Bars and restaurants had been hoping to get a change in the limits on customers, and many now are focused on increasing staff and getting ready to welcome sports fans into Circle City for one of the biggest months of the year.

The bar and restaurant scene has struggled throughout the pandemic.

“It has been difficult to get into the bar and then a lot of people just aren’t going out,” Stephanie Spitsa said.

Following the announcement that the NCAA tournament would be tipping off in Indianapolis, bars and restaurants needed capacity limits to be increased.

“You know, as a city, I was worried we wouldn’t be able to keep up, you know, with people coming into town; they want to have a good time, eat, drink, have fun,” said Jeff Huron, general manager of The District Tap downtown.

Starting Monday, bars can open at 50% capacity, which doubles the previous capacity limits, and curfew will be pushed from midnight to 2 a.m. Restaurants can seat up to 75% capacity indoors starting Monday.

“We have been planning ahead for this. This is kind of our contingency plan. So even though it hadn’t happened until we were still kind of eyeing toward these kind of restrictions being lifted,” said Huron.

With more hours to stay open, the hope is to start making up for lost time.

“The more hours for the guests to come in, enjoy the dining experience and a beverage. We will take it if we can get it,” said Steve Kelly, general manager of Kilroy’s Bar and Grill.

There is a contingency, though; bars and restaurants have to maintain the 6 feet of social distancing inside, which means not every restaurant and bar can expand capacity.

“Being socially distanced means that a 50% occupancy is still the same as 75% because we can’t add anymore seats because they still have to be socially distanced,” said Kelly.

Kilroy’s will make up for the lost table seating by opening up a spot that it couldn’t use in quite some time.

“Well, the most exciting thing is the bar top. Our bartenders haven’t seen a bar top across Marion County in almost a year,” Kelly said.

But, the big focus for many bars and restaurants ahead of the tournament is getting staff in the door and trained.

“We are hiring 100% and we are looking very diligently to find more staff to work,” Kelly said.

Bar and restaurant managers that spoke with News 8 say they hope that they can use the tournament to prove that they can safely handle crowds in hopes of continuing to open up the city and lift restrictions.