Restaurants in every corner of the Miami Valley and Ohio will welcome diners back into their dining rooms today, for the first time in more than two months.
For diners — and for restaurant employees, too — the experience will not be quite the same as it was prior to March 15, when Gov. Mike DeWine and state health officials ordered bars and restaurant dining rooms to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dining in May 2020, social-distancing style, will mean this: Most employees will be wearing protective masks. Tables will be six feet apart or separated by physical barriers. Bars will have limited seating. Groups of more than 10 will not be allowed. Diners may be asked to wait in their cars, rather than inside the restaurant, if their tables aren’t ready. And those delicate aromas of truffle oil and shaved Parmesan may be forced to share olfactory receptors with a hint of disinfectant.
“Diners should know that restaurants are doing their best to navigate a completely new world,” said Shanon Morgan, president of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association.
Morgan’s advice to diners: “Be patient, be kind, and know that our restaurants are doing the best they can.”
Restaurant owners and managers are facing a multitude of challenges, Morgan said. They must decide how many tables must be removed, and Plexiglas barriers should be installed, in their dining rooms. Many are juggling a surge in carryout and delivery business as they gear up for dine-in service. Personal protection equipment is in short supply, with some items back-ordered through August.
“Plus, how do you staff for this,” Morgan said. “Do you bring in enough staff in case you get bombarded, or do you staff for crickets chirping? There are just so many unknowns right now.”
An Ohio Restaurant Association survey of member restaurants last week showed that 54 percent of respondents plan to reopen their dining rooms today, and another 28 percent of respondents will follow close behind, reopening in the days to follow. Less than one in five of survey respondents said they have no immediate plans to reopen their dining rooms, at this time.
The Heights Café on Chambersburg Road in Huber Heights is among those opening today, although its dining room will be operating at about half of its previous capacity.
Manager Katrina Riggle said the cafe’s dining room normally seats 68, but the restaurant will be seating 28 plus a meeting room for eight people to keep customers at a safe distance.
The Huber Heights business already had four two-person tables on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. Huber Heights has temporarily waived all city code that would normally prohibit that to allow more restaurants to be open. All tables inside will be six feet apart, staff will always be wearing gloves and masks and they will be sanitizing tables and chairs in between customers, Riggle said.
Cafe staff will also sanitize other high-touch surfaces like door knobs and the area around the cash register and pin pad at the cash register. The Heights Café will also be providing disposable menus to each new customer so that no one is reusing a previous diner’s menu.
“We’re really excited to open,” Riggle said. “We have a large base of regulars, so we’re excited to see them and hear how this is affecting them, how they’re getting along during all this.”
Riggle said the tables inside seat four people, if a group larger than that comes to the café, the party will be seated in the back meeting room.
“We just hope that people are patient with us and all food-service workers,” Riggle said. “We went from a staff of five to a staff of three through all this, so we hope our customers are understanding. This has hit small businesses really hard.”
In downtown Dayton, Kelly Byrd, general manager of the Spaghetti Warehouse at 36 W. Fifth St., said he is fortunate to have a large restaurant dining room with several event rooms, although the social-distancing requirement did force the removal of 15 to 20 tables, and some barriers were added in the dining room. Staff will be wearing masks, there will be hand sanitizer available throughout the restaurant, and the restaurant took advantage of the two-month dine-in hiatus to make some renovations inside.
“We will reopen safely, and even better than before,” Byrd said.
Spaghetti Warehouse will continue its carryout and delivery emphasis after the dining room opens today. “It was already an important part of our business,” the restaurant’s general manager said.
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But not all restaurants made the decision to open dining rooms on the first day they could. Chantilly Cream in downtown Fairborn will not be opening its dining room to customers until there is a vaccine or more testing available. Nearby Giovanni’s will wait until June 2 to reopen its dining room. Also in downtown Fairborn, Tickets Eatery and Pub has been closed, but will reopen for carry-out only on May 26.
Some communities don’t feel safe about indoor or outdoor dining areas reopening right now. Most restaurants in Yellow Springs have agreed to open only for takeout or delivery.
“We’re hearing that they’re too concerned to reopen right now,” said Village Manager Josue Salmeron. “Folks here are still concerned about the virus. The pressure to reopen is economic. I see both sides of it. It’s a real conflict. It’s unfortunate that many have to put their economic livelihood before their and others’ health.”
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The Ohio Restaurant Association, which earlier this month called upon DeWine and state health officials to allow restaurants to reopen by May 15, reminded its member restaurants Wednesday that under the current Ohio Department of Health Director’s Dine Safe Ohio Order:
• Open congregate areas of bars and restaurants remain closed;
• All guests must be seated when eating or drinking;
• Food service establishments must take affirmative steps with customers to achieve safe social distancing guidelines;
• Social distancing in lines and between tables is required;
• Most employees will be wearing facial coverings; and
• Restaurants and bars should have someone assigned on each shift to take responsibility for assuring these requirements are met.
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