Heather Sukola, owner of Heather’s Coffee & Cafe’ in Springboro, lost half of her seating to comply with the Governor opening outside service for restaurants and bars. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

Restaurants to open outdoor seating today

Outdoor dining and drinking can reopen today in Ohio, but the city of Dayton says it will not approve any new outdoor seating until they feel more confident people are safe and coronavirus testing is more widely available.

Dayton leaders say crowds are risky right now, and they do not want to encourage people to go out, even though some local bars and restaurants plan to open their patios, and indoor dining can resume in a week.

“We’re very concerned about the governor’s order happening too early for our community because testing is not in place,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. “It’s painful to say, but I don’t think anybody should go to a restaurant until we have testing in place.”

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But other local communities want to help food and drink establishments expand outdoor seating quickly, saying they believe it will be an effective way to boost business while keeping customers and staff healthy.

It’s frustrating that some Dayton officials do not trust restaurants to operate safely when that’s always one of their main priorities and areas of expertise, said Dana Downs, owner of Roost Modern Italian in the Oregon District.

“We are safety and sanitation professionals,” Downs said. “Every single day, every move we make, that’s our main concern: the health and wellness of our customers and staff.”

“Honestly, I don’t think they are giving us enough credit,” she said.

The state has given bars and restaurants the green light to open outdoor seating today as long as social distancing is followed.

Indoor seating can reopen a week from now, with distancing restrictions.

Downtown Dayton businesses are evaluating when and how they can best reopen responsibly to safeguard their employees and guests, and some may want to expand outdoor space, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

Some Dayton bars and restaurants are reopening today, including Toxic Brew Co. in the Oregon District, which has a popular patio space.

Toxic says it will allow limited social distancing seating, and customers will have to keep six feet apart and will have to wear masks while ordering drinks.

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Steve Tieber, owner of the Dublin Pub, says allowing restaurants to expand outdoor seating that can comply with social distancing guidelines could possibly save many from going out of business.

Restaurant margins are very slim to begin with, and if they have to operate at something like 50% capacity, it’s likely they will struggle to be able to turn a profit and cover their fixed costs, he said.

“Expanding exterior dining will not only help these businesses and possibly keep them from going out of business in the near future but it will also create more jobs and keep people from unemployment,” he said.

But the city of Dayton this week announced that right now it will not issue new outdoor seating permits and will not approve requests to expand outdoor seating.

The city also said for the time being it will not allow restaurants to use parking areas to offer open-air seating.

Mayor Whaley said she wishes people would hold off on going out to eat or drink in Dayton until at least the end of the month when Dayton Children’s Hospital expects to have public coronavirus testing in place.

Testing should start May 18, and Children’s expects to be able to do 10,500 tests per week for the region, which would make a huge difference to identify sick people and coronavirus hot spots, Whaley said.

Whaley said she believes testing should be firmly in place by May 25, at which time she should feel more comfortable about dining and drinking activities, though she still urges citizens to be careful and socially distance and avoid crowding.

Likely by early June, the city will work with its bars and restaurants to expand their outdoor footprints to try to address the loss of indoor seating, due to social distancing requirements, said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein.

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Other communities, like Huber Heights, already have invited restaurants to apply to expand or add outdoor seating areas.

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Huber Heights received its first application on Wednesday, and city officials say restaurants have expressed considerable interest in the program.

“Once the reopening regulations were released from the state, we saw an opportunity to allow for restaurants to follow those guidelines and expand on their existing seating areas,” said Scott Falkowski, Huber Heights assistant city manager. “As indoor seating may be reduced for a period of time, those reductions can be minimized by adding additional outdoor seating areas.”

Restaurants opening today are taking a lot of precautions in prepping for customers.

Heather’s Café in Springboro said it will be using handheld devices to serve customers and all menus will be disposable. The restaurant is also using disposable plates, bowls and utensils to keep customers safe.

The Ohio Restaurant Association says it supports current and proposed outdoor seating options and plans and believes restaurants can safely reopen this month.

“Ohio’s restaurants have always operated with an exceptionally high focus on health and safety, and local health departments are ready to work with local restaurants to help them meet all reopening guidelines,” the association said.

Some neighboring communities are being really supportive of their food businesses right now and doing everything they can to help as they reopen, said Downs, Roost’s owner.

But some Dayton leaders seem to lack faith in restaurants’ ability to operate safely, even though owners and workers take it very seriously and understand what they need to do, she said.

“We need more trust from our government officials,” Downs said. “This is what we do, we deal with this every single day, and we are working hard to comply with new restrictions.”

Social distancing is working, and responsible restaurants should be able to protect staff and customers, she said.

Roost plans to reopen May 28. The restaurant isn’t opening sooner because it is completing a variety of projects, including upgrading the space and introducing a brand new menu, Downs said.

Roost’s patio is small and at most probably it could hold 10 people while complying with social distancing rules, said Downs, who also said she wishes the social distancing requirement for restaurants was reduced to four feet separation, instead of six.

She says she believes that four feet would still be enough of a buffer to keep people safe, and that could really help establishments with limited space.

Troll Pub at the Wheelhouse is putting out seven tables on its patio, even though it is large and has space for 15, to keep guests safe, said Chad Werra, the restaurant’s general mangaer.

Troll Pub closed completely during the crisis, but recently reopened for carryout, and management is OK with slowly resuming operations, even though it hurts sales badly, he said.

Werra said he thinks the city is not approving new outdoor seating requrests because they do not want all establishments to open all at once.

“If too many places open too fast we could potentially be back to square one,” he said.

But Werra said restaurants are very safe, and they follow strict guidelines set by health officials.

“With this pandemic however, we will only be more diligent and clean as much as possible,” he said. “Our guests are our number one priority so their safety is very important to us.”

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