Busy Valentine's Day weekend for restaurants as restrictions ease

Some restaurants in the Twin Cities metro saw an uptick in business amid the Valentine's Day weekend. (FOX 9)

Valentine’s Day weekend was one of the busiest days for Hazelwood Food and Drink in Bloomington since the pandemic began. A busy weekend was a change of pace for the restaurant owners who said this last year has been challenging.

"It’s been overwhelming," said Scott Foster, managing partner at Nova Restaurant Group. "Our sense of gratitude…you can’t measure it. What has kept me up at night is the possibility of losing everything."

Foster attributes the busy holiday weekend to an uptick in customers and the fact that people feel safe in the restaurant because of the safety measures his team has implemented. There’s social distancing, plexiglass in-between tables, and a double sanitation process before customers sit down. 

On Feb. 12, Gov. Tim Walz announced a new round of loosened restrictions that allows more people inside restaurants. There’s still a 50% maximum but the difference is the new total capacity is 250, up from 150. 

"Being at 50% allows us the chance to keep going," said Foster. "With carryout and anything less than what we’re doing, unfortunately, would not go well. We’re already seeing the fact that many of our colleagues and friends in the industry have lost their businesses."

The National Restaurant Association tells FOX 9 the foodservice industry took a big hit in 2020, losing a total of $240 billion in sales.  

"December sales trends confirm that the restaurant industry has slipped into a double-dip recession – well before it even came close to recovering from the original downturn last spring," a spokesperson with the association said in a statement.

The National Restaurant Association adds that restaurants are still down 2.5 million jobs, or 20%, below its pre-coronavirus level and more than 110,000 restaurants have closed permanently or long-term.  

And while these statistics are grim, some restaurant staff said a busy Valentine’s Day Weekend keeps them optimistic.

"This weekend was busy enough that I would compare it to pre-COVID," said Donna Morrison, manager at Hen House Eatery downtown Minneapolis. "It was great to see people having a great time and enjoying themselves." 

Morrison said staff stayed open a little later to make sure people on the waitlist could eat.  

"We actually were supposed to close at 2 p.m. and we still had people waiting in line, so we decided to seat people after we closed," she said. "I found myself thanking people and saying, 'Hey, thanks for getting out of your warm bed, coming in, and visiting us.' Downtown has changed so much and I am just grateful that people are coming in downtown, specifically, to see us."

And for restaurant regulars, it’s that kind of service that keeps them coming back. 

"The staff couldn’t be friendlier," said David Neslund, a Hen House Eatery patron. "Everything is good here, the prices, the people beverages, and food. Just wait until the outdoor patio opens in the spring. It’s the best one in the city."