Bars, restaurants face fines, suspensions for social-distancing violations

Des Moines' Court Avenue district has a collection of bars and restaurants. The Iowa Restaurant Association received a state grant to help businesses recover from the pandemic. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa restaurants and bars will face $1,000 fines and possible license suspensions for violating the state’s social-distancing and cleaning requirements, state officials announced Thursday.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch reported last week that the Iowa Restaurant Association was pushing for stronger enforcement of rules intended to fight the spread of COVID-19. The organization, which represents 600 of Iowa’s 6,000 restaurants and bars, argued that those complying with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamations were at a competitive disadvantage with those ignoring them. 

“People are saying, ‘I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do and the jerk down the street is doing whatever they want,’” said Jessica Dunker, association president and CEO.

State regulations require six feet between each patron at a bar or restaurant. In addition, every customer must have a seat available. The state also has set standards for cleaning. 

The Alcoholic Beverages Division and the Department of Inspections and Appeals will supervise the crackdown and promote compliance.

Penalties will include: 

  • Businesses with an alcohol permit or license will face a $1,000 fine for a first offense. Those with only a food license would get a warning for a first offense.
  • Second offenses would mean a seven-day suspension of both alcohol and food licenses or permits.
  • The state would revoke the permits and licenses for any business with a third infraction.

“Although a majority of bars and restaurants are voluntarily complying with social distancing requirements, we will take these necessary steps to ensure the health and safety of Iowans,” Larry Johnson, director of the Department of Inspections and Appeals, said in a statement. 

Stephen Larson, administrator of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, said in a statement that the state was to emphasize there will be consequences for violations. “COVID-19 is still with us and we need bars and restaurants to help mitigate the spread of the virus,” Larson said.