What to do if your bar has to become a restaurant

What to do if your bar has to become a restaurant

How to meet new state and local restrictions.

A new wave of COVID-19 inspired lockdowns is threatening to once again shutter bars across the United States. Echoing the shutdowns that took place in the summer of 2020, bars have been targeted by officials and the media as vectors for spread.

Bars may be shut down for weeks or months, while owners are struggling to find ways to keep their doors open. In many localities, rules against bars are much harsher than for restaurants. If you reclassify your bar as a restaurant, as several businesses have done in Texas, you may be able to remain open.

This guide will cover how to transition a bar into a restaurant, including safely equipping your bar for food service, new regulations for restaurants and bars, and how to minimize the spread of germs between staff and customers.

Consider Your Resources and Start Planning

Consider the resources you have at hand, and how you can use them to repurpose your bar. In Texas, guidelines state that a bar can reclassify as a restaurant as long as 50% of revenue is generated from non-alcoholic sales. In order to meet this 50% requirement, some bars are getting creative.

Switching your business model from a bar to a restaurant may seem like a daunting task, but there are measures you can take to simplify the process. Before making any big decisions, you should consider if you want these changes to be temporary or permanent. Making temporary changes will allow you to make simpler changes to weather the lockdown, while permanent changes may open an entirely new line of revenue for years to come.

Temporary Solutions

There are several minimal changes that you can make to meet the requirements of reclassifying as a restaurant for a short period of time. This solution would be preferable if your building lacks the infrastructure necessary to accommodate a full restaurant kitchen.

Food Trucks

Some bars are partnering with food trucks to meet the required 50% of non-alcoholic sales. So long as the food truck is on your premises during your operational hours, you can serve meals out of their kitchen.

Basic Meals

If you are unable to prepare traditional restaurant meals for your guests, you can always consider prepackaged and frozen food. Frozen pizza or chips and salsa are simple solutions that require very little preparation, but may help you to meet the mandated 50% of non-alcoholic revenue.

Take Out Cocktails

You can promote take out alcohol sales. The allotted 50% of alcoholic sales is allowed to exclude sales for take out services.

Long Term Solutions

By enacting long term solutions, you can rebrand your establishment into an entirely new business model. This solution has a few more stringent requirements, but can lead to a growth in your business as you can accommodate additional customers. Here are some aspects to consider:

Constructing a Dining Area

Repurpose empty indoor space as a dining room to accommodate dine in service. Consider retrofitting a section of your parking lot into patio seating. You will be surprised how setting down some basic tables and chairs will help you to create an environment that is more conducive to non-alcoholic sales.

Kitchen Ventilation

In order to serve up enough meals to remain compliant with state guidelines, you have a few options. When it comes to what kinds of products you can cook in your kitchen, it is primarily determined by your exhaust fan and range hood.

There are two common types of exhaust fans: upblast exhaust fans and downblast exhaust fans. For the general needs of a kitchen, you will usually require an upblast exhaust fan. Downblast exhaust fans are not rated to exhaust the smoke, grease, and oils that are commonplace in a restaurant kitchen.

In conjunction with your exhaust fan, you will need a range hood system that can vent the exhaust from your kitchen.

  • A type 1 range hood system is designed to vent smoke, grease, and oil. This range hood system is most commonly used above cooking surfaces.
  • A type 2 range hood system is designed to vent only heat and moisture. They are unable to vent grease and oil, so they should not be used above cooking surfaces. Type 2 range hood systems are most commonly used above dishwashers.

Building Your Menu

Ultimately, the types of food you can prepare will be determined by the range fan in your kitchen. Use this information to build a menu of products you will be able to prepare in your location.

Consider what types of meals your customers would enjoy, and start testing recipes. For tips on constructing the menu itself, check out this guide.

Safety Comes First

While you are likely excited to get the doors of your business open again, you need to make sure to account for the safety of your guests and employees. There are a number of precautions you should take when reopening your restaurant:

  • Employees must wear masks at all times. Wearing masks has been proven to limit the risk of infection, so ensure that all staff adhere to safety guidelines.
  • Disinfect commonly used surfaces. Door handles, counters and tabletops, and other surfaces that guests are interacting with regularly must be disinfected to limit the chance of infection.
  • Print disposable menus for guests to use and then throw away.
  • Keep track of your employees' health. If a member of your staff is showing possible symptoms, make sure to send them home.
  • Make sure to separate tables by at least 6 feet to accommodate social distancing requirements.
  • Seat guests outside if possible. Guests seated in an outdoor environment are less likely to transmit the infection to others.
  • Enforce social distancing, and ensure that guests are not creating a public health risk.


With health and safety guidelines cracking down on bars, you might be able to keep your doors open by reclassifying as a restaurant.

Consider the resources you already have on hand, and make adjustments to meet the 50% non-alcohol sale requirement. If your building was not built with the infrastructure you need to accommodate a full restaurant kitchen, you still have options. Some bars are partnering with food trucks or serving prepackaged meals in order to meet the 50% requirement.

As you make the transition to dine in service, be sure to take precautions to ensure public safety. Follow safety regulations and enforce social distancing to provide a safe environment for your customers.

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