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Bars, restaurants hopeful outdoor dining expansion in downtown Houston will help struggling businesses

Patios and outdoor dining can be at full capacity as long as there are social distancing precautions in place.

HOUSTON — Restaurants in Houston are finding creative ways to keep customers coming back as the coronavirus pandemic continues to hit the service industry hard.

For example, The Moonshiners in downtown Houston is just one of many restaurants and bars that have seen business fall off since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

“Post-COVID (shutdown), we are down. We do about 25-30% of our previous sales,” Sam Aceituno, general manager of The Moonshiners, said.

In Texas, indoor dining is capped at 75% as long as tables are socially separated or barriers have been installed. Patios and outdoor dining can be at full capacity as long as there’s social distancing measure in place.

However, it's still a challenge to fill the tables.

“There’s just not much foot traffic down here with the businesses being closed ... people working from home. Downtown, in general, from sun up to sun down just doesn’t have much volume. There’s not much life right now,” Aceituno said.

Last week, the City of Houston approved the More Space Main Street ordinance which allows businesses between Commerce and Rusk Streets to close to traffic and let restaurants and bars set up their tables in the road through March 2022.

“This is a way to let everybody support the businesses and keep everyone going during this time and it’s a win-win for everyone,” City of Houston Planning Director Margaret Wallace Brown said.

Melissa Stewart with the Texas Restaurant Association said expanding outdoor dining has been one of the many ways restaurants have adapted to the pandemic. She said restaurants follow safety guidelines so people may be safer versus going to a gathering in someone’s home.

“Where people are not following rules. They’re not using spacing, they just let their guard down because there’s nobody to look at them and say, ‘No, no, you have to put that mask back on,’ or ‘Hey, this is not your bubble. Spread out,’” Stewart said.