Bars on the Square have adopted many new health and safety regulations, but game days are still attracting bigger crowds and the evermore common issue of enforcing the new rules.
“People will be walking around without masks, (and) there would be more than six people at a table,” Sandra Savage, a senior dietetics and nutrition major, said. “Sometimes (bar staff) would come up to your table and be like, ‘Hey, you can’t sit here. There can only be six people.’ But they would never enforce it.”
Savage said she frequents the bars on weekends and periodically on weekdays like many other students. The changes made to her usual nights out originally bothered her, but now she has warmed up to the restaurant-like required seating and table service that many bars have adopted.
Social distancing and mask regulations can be difficult to enforce, even with reduced capacity at restaurants and bars, and Savage believes there is room for some of the bars to improve.
“I just wish they’d be more strict,” Savage said. “So people would be more careful because they feel like people aren’t being careful because they don’t care.”
Savage said that most bars are good about enforcing their social-distancing rules, and she has often been told to move from a table with too many people. She even recalled a night when Oxford police came into one bar to check if regulations were being followed.
With the cancellation of tailgating in the Grove and other pregame activities, Oxford residents and students are looking for other places to spend their time on game days. As a result, bars have a higher demand than ever.
During the week, neighboring bars Rafters Music & Food and The Annex often meet capacity. On weekends and game days, they come together as one bar and draw lines of patrons that may have to wait as long as two hours for entry because of the 75% capacity rule.
Sam Greiner, a sophomore general business major who works as a part of the bar’s security detail, said that they are taking COVID-19 regulations seriously.
“Whenever somebody gets, you know, too messed up, or they won’t listen to keeping their mask on, we usually kick them out,” Greiner said.
Some of the safety regulations that The Annex and Rafters have implemented are security enforcing regulations, plexiglass over the bars and a strict adherence to the capacity rule.
When working the door, Greiner has to ensure that the line of patrons is following the mask mandate and help keep a count of people inside the establishment. It is easy to keep a count, but if the count is not reported, then OPD has to intervene.
“Last week, when we were at The Annex, someone forgot the count,” Greiner said. “So just because of that, they shut the bar down, made everyone leave, then come back in and made us get a count.”
Greiner said most patrons cooperate with rules, and even on busy weekends when the rules are harder to enforce, the security does not see a significant increase in trouble.
“Some nights, it’s harder to keep people sitting down, but not always,” Greiner said. “Like this past Saturday, even with the (Alabama) game, everyone was pretty much wearing masks when they were standing up, and everybody was sitting down at tables watching the game.”
OPD’s downtown unit — often seen positioned across the street from Funky’s on weekend nights — oversees the bars and runs the checks described by Greiner.
Public Information Officer Breck Jones said OPD is satisfied with how the bars and restaurants are following the city’s COVID-19 regulations.
“Most of the businesses and bars have done a great job with following the COVID ordinances,” Jones said. “There’s not been anybody in particular (causing issues).”
It is difficult to constantly monitor bars’ adherence to the new regulations, but the downtown unit tries to check them as frequently as possible.
“Obviously, there’s crowds when there’s more people in town for a football game,” Jones said. “But our downtown unit does bar checks and things like that to try to make sure that the bars and businesses in the downtown area are following the social distancing and the city ordinances regarding COVID restrictions.”