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MT sports bars adjust to changes brought on by pandemic

Robyn Roberts, general manager of the Halftime
Posted at 9:26 AM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 11:26:21-05

GREAT FALLS — Millions of people tuned in to watch the Super Bowl, but at many sports bars across the country, attendance was down due to COVID-19 restrictions.

It’s usually a full house at places like the Halftime Sports Bar on Super Bowl Sunday.

While Coronavirus restrictions may have at first felt like an all-out blitz on the bottom line, places like the Halftime are gradually getting back in the game.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, said Robyn Roberts, general manager of the Halftime. “We’ve been busier than we thought we were going to be, we’ve been slower than we thought we were going to be. It’s definitely been an interesting year.”

“It took a long time for people to come back,” said Quin Sather, General Manager of Papa Ray’s Sports Bar in Montana City. “There’s still a lot of people that haven’t come back. Gambling really took a hit for a while.”

Quin Sather, General Manager of Papa Ray’s Sports Bar
Quin Sather, General Manager of Papa Ray’s Sports Bar

As restrictions have been lifted, businesses have been moving the chains closer to normalcy, but challenges remain.

“I feel like it’s almost changed the industry,” said Roberts. “We see that there isn’t a lot of business out there anymore right now after 10 o’clock even since the lifted restrictions.”

Restrictions have been regulated by county health departments. Giving places like Montana City-based Papa Ray’s Sports Bar a sort of home-field advantage.

“We were pretty fortunate being in Jefferson County because ours came back quicker than Lewis and Clark County,” said Sather. “When they were still at 10 o’clock, we went to 12:30.”

Papa Ray’s is now open until 2 a.m. again. While the pandemic has been a difficult opponent to defend, sports bars have made some adjustments to their game plan.

“Luckily I put a TV outside for early fall,” said Sather. “So I put tables out there so they could watch one game out there so that helped a little bit but I mean it was tough. COVID really screwed up a lot of the bars.”

Both establishments boast a loyal fan base and have been able to capitalize on the restaurant side of the business. Papa Ray’s with their signature pizzas, the Halftime with their extensive menu.

“We do definitely do a lot more takeout than we have before so much that we chose not to go with Door Dash or Uber at this time because we do it all in-house and we do quite a bit of it,” said Roberts.

Roberts says the Halftime depends largely on its food orders and that the shortened hours of operation hasn’t had the same impact it has on other bars. Often times, the featured sporting events are over by 10 pm and they don’t depend on crowds that are used to staying out until 2:00 am.

They also follow county health guidance, constantly cleaning and sanitizing, maintaining social distance when it comes to seating and being sticklers about face masks.

“We here at the Halftime have chosen to make our customers wear masks because we feel that we are providing the safest place for people to go out and eat and that’s what we’re trying to cater to,” said Roberts. “It could cost us business in the end. We take a lot of guff that I don’t think we deserve.

It’s been a tough battle and both places are looking forward to getting back to a full roster of customers, without the interference of a game-changing virus.

It's not just football that draws the sports fans. There’s boxing, MMA, baseball and horseracing.

March Madness, one of the biggest sporting events is getting set to tip-off. It was completely canceled in 2020. If everything goes according to plan, that will put places like the Halftime and Papa Ray’s one step closer to the win column.