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State restaurant association asks members to sign safety pledge

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MADISON (WKOW) -- From following guidelines to properly training staff, the state's restaurant association believes a list of businesses who've committed to following the best safety practices can help put anxious diners at ease.

One of the restaurants who've signed the "Ready to Serve Safely" pledge is Migrants on the city's west side. Owner Oscar Villareal said the entire year has been a massive challenge, especially considering the restaurant only opened last December.

"Barely hanging on by a thread," Villareal said. "We had to make some major cuts and we had to change the way we were doing things."

Villareal said he signed the pledge because he believed it was one more way to let people know his business was taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. The restauranteur said he was going even further, asking employees to get tested for COVID twice every month.

"The crucial part to me is making sure they're safe but not only them, our customers that come here, as well as myself," Villareal said.

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association's pledge has four key components: following federal guidelines, following local health ordinances, training employees on both food safety and COVID-19 prevention, and following the organization's own set of best practices.

"There should be no restaurant, really, that should be operating at 100 percent capacity," said the association's president, Kristine Hillmer. "They should be distancing their tables, they should be having their staff wear masks and they should following all the CDC and FDA guidelines that are out there."

Hillmer said she believed it was safe for people to dine inside restaurants as long as they were following public health guidelines. She said restaurants can still be safe without taking the WRA's pledge, the list would serve as a one-stop shop for people looking for assurance a restaurant was taking proper precautions.

"If you really have a concern or you really want to follow those protocols, these are restaurants that you can be assured and you can go to that you're going to be safe," Hillmer said.

As of Monday, more than 75 restaurants from across the state were on the list. Hillmer said a survey of its members from earlier in the fall found 47 percent said they would close within the next six months without additional federal aid, assuming state and local restrictions remained in place.

Villareal admitted he still had reservations about dining out, saying he was still sticking to carryout. He hoped the WRA's campaign would put people with similar concerns at ease.

Villareal added he felt some optimism with promising news about vaccines on the verge of emergency use approval, but said that would only matter for many restaurants if they could first survive the upcoming winter.

"We still gotta stretch before we get there," he said. "And before we get from A to B, we better take care of A."

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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