MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - It’s been eight months since bars and restaurants in South Carolina were allowed to serve alcoholic beverages after 11 p.m.
The restriction is part of South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s ‘Last Call’ order, which could soon be a thing of the past.
Earlier this week, McMaster told members of the press the alcohol restriction could be lifted sometime in late March.
On Thursday afternoon, the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association Chairman Bobby Williams confirmed with WMBF News the governor does intend to lift the Last Call order soon.
“All along McMaster has been pro business,” Williams said.
He thought McMaster was going to lift the ban back in November, but things changed when COVID-19 numbers started to rise. The chairman says the governor intends to lift the order next month if new cases continue to drop.
“They’re starting to go the right direction now so he’s keeping his word,” Williams said. “When the infections start going in the right direction, he will lift this last restriction.”
The chairman says the order is continuing to hurt many bars, especially those that depend on the college crowds. He says in order for many businesses across the state to survive, the order must be lifted very soon.
“They depend on the college crowd they don’t go out until real late,” he said. “There’s a lot of [businesses] ready to close right now and if this doesn’t get lifted, basically they will close.”
Some Grand Strand bars and restaurants say the Last Call order is impacting their bottom line.
Tin Roof general manager Jonathan Talbot says his business has faced many challenges since the Last Call order went into effect in July because he can no longer depend on late night business dollars. Around that time is when the businesses started closing at 11 p.m. instead of 2 a.m. Months later, it’s hurting his business.
“Those last three hours for us [is when we] probably do 40 percent of our business,” Talbot said. “So to not have that for the last eight months has been really tough.”
Talbot says he’ll remain cautiously optimistic until it’s actually lifted and revenue is back up.
When asked how much money Tin Roof lost out on when the order went into effect last year, Talbot said that’s a number he’d rather not configure at this time.
“I haven’t looked at those numbers because I don’t want to see them,” Talbot said. “[It’s] probably going to break my heart to know what we did lose. I just want try to focus on what we have in front of us this entire time, try to keep our staff happy, trying to do everything we can to keep money in their pockets, make sure their bills are getting paid and doing the best we can.”
Sean Burke is part owner of Spencer’z Sports Pub in Surfside Beach, alongside owner Newt Swartz. He say’s they’ve lost a third of their business since the Last Call order went into effect.
“It’s really hard to make money,” Burke said.
He hopes McMaster will provide bar businesses some relief and lift the restriction, particularly with the spring and summer tourism season only a few months away.
“I would be ecstatic if it did happen, I’m not too confident that it will,” Burke said.
As bar employees wait to see what happens with the order next month, some say they’d like the governor to address additional concerns they have about the order, which limits their ability to fully serve some customers.
“We got to the fall and [the governor] let us go back to 100 percent occupancy but I have to stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m.,” Talbot said.
“But I can stay open and serve food and soda all night,” said Newt Swartz, part owner of Spencer’z Sports Pub.
“Why am I allowed to have 500 people in here eating a hamburger at midnight that didn’t have to leave?” Talbot said. “I can serve them a Coke, but I can’t serve them a beer. It never made sense to me.”
McMaster said the Last Call order was effective with limiting the spread of the coronavirus. He says the order prevents young adults from congregating at bars and restaurants, which kept them from infecting their loved ones in their communities.