Vermonters will be able to sidle up to the bar for a drink, but chit-chat at the counter may be a little awkward.
Bars may resume counter service, Gov. Phil Scott announced on Friday, as long as patrons sit six feet apart and businesses install a clear plastic barrier between customers and bartenders.
Also on Friday, Scott said hotels can now book 100 percent of their rooms. They'd been operating at a 50-percent cap since June.
The latest business-oriented changes are intended to help improve the state's ailing economy as Vermont continues to see relatively low rates of coronavirus infection. The lodging and restaurant industries have been especially hard hit by a big drop in out-of-state visitors.
Scott and other administration officials said they hoped the relaxed rules would give both sectors a boost heading into fall foliage season.
"The next four or five weeks are really the last opportunity for the tourism industry ... before ski season picks back up," Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, said at the press conference. "This is a good opportunity for them to get increased occupancy in their establishments and hopefully make some economic gains"
State data suggest that visits to lodging establishments were down by half in August compared to last year. But the data show that travelers coming from "green" counties, meaning they don't have to quarantine upon arrival, are coming at higher rates than those from yellow or red counties.
The number of residents in state-designated "green" counties increased to 7.4 million this week, up from 5.5 million last week.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine noted that common areas in hotels will still face gathering restrictions.
The Vermont Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies on behalf of hotels and restaurants, lauded Friday's announcement.
"The hospitality industry has been working diligently to ensure the health and safety of Vermonters and leisure travelers as the economy has re-opened," vice president of tourism Amy Spear said in a statement. "Governor Scott’s loosening of restrictions for restaurants and lodging properties was much needed and welcome as we head into foliage season."
In Burlington, city councilors recently extended an 11 p.m. cutoff for alcohol sales that they put in place last month as college classes began. The restriction will remain in effect through at least October 5.