Off The Menu: Restaurants will reopen to changing landscape – MassLive.com

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As a few states and jurisdictions have begun to relax stay-home-orders and non-essential-businesses shutdowns, the shape of restaurant dining post-lockdown is beginning to become visible.

Not surprisingly, social distancing is a central operating constraint in this new world of dining. Restaurants are having to limit the number of patrons they allow in their dining spaces; in Texas, for instance, state guidelines require that eating establishments allow no more than 25% of their rated seating capacity be occupied at any one time.

Most mandates associated with reopening are requiring servers to wear masks and use gloves; and single-use, throwaway menus are also the norm.

Patrons may themselves also be required to mask, at least not while actually eating, and the size of dining parties is usually limited to no more than four or six, depending on the set of guidelines in force.

Self-service buffets, food displays, and condiment tables are not being permitted, and extensive pre- and post-usage sanitization of dining tables is becoming the new normal.

Traditional at-the-bar service and consumption of cocktails and beverages is also a no-no.

Of course, the big unknown in this process of restaurants opening for on-premises dining is consumer acceptance, and preliminary data on customer sentiment is contradictory.

In Germany, where lockdown restrictions were eased in late April, the public has proven hesitant to re-engage with on-premises dining and retail.

However, here in the U.S. restaurant chain executives, in reporting on their particular brand’s experiences in early-reopening states, have described dine-in business as being “better than anticipated.”

Two of the restaurant industry’s major media outlets, “Nation’s Restaurant News” and “Restaurant Hospitality,” have partnered to establish a digital community they are calling Restaurants Rise.

Conceptualized as a resource to help restaurants reset and re-imagine the ways that they do business in the face of new realities, Restaurants Rise will serve as an on-demand center that will bring together information designed to help food service operators cope with the disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused in the industry.

The May online debut of Restaurants Rise will be followed, in early June, by Restaurants Rise LIVE!, a four-day virtual event featuring webinars and online educational experiences focusing on issues of menu, marketing, and operations during the restaurant industry’s reemergence and recovery.

The web address for Restaurants Rise is restaurantsrise.com.

Bistro Les Gras in Northampton has reopened its kitchen and is now offering “Family Menu Meals” for Thursday and Friday evening pickup.

The menus for these meals feature the French-inspired, often-adventurous cookery that has been a hallmark of Bistro Les Gras dining.

Available assembled to serve between two and six at-home diners, the Family Meal menu for May 7 offers pork schnitzel with an arugula and parmesan salad and a side of German potato salad. The Bistro’s version of mac & cheese is an alternative choice; it’s made interesting with ramps and wild mushrooms. Both menus include an hors d’oeuvre component.

The Family Meals must be pre-ordered at bistrolesgras.com between 5 p.m. on Sunday and 7 p.m. on Thursday, with meal pickup hours set for Thursday and Friday between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

A “For the Home” option complements the Family Meals, providing an opportunity to stock up on house-made pickles, preserves, condiments, cured fish, sauces, soups, and more. The selection ranges from marinated olives and aioli to country pork pate, marinara sauce, and smoked pastrami salmon.

Meals and condiments must be ordered on line; Bistro Les Gras also answers at (413) 320-4666.

The MAX Restaurant Group, having closed all its restaurants as of March 31, has been gradually returning to the marketplace, offering “Family Share Packs” at several of the Group’s Connecticut locations.

Items on the rather extensive “Family Share” menus are sized to serve two or three at-home diners. Choices at Max’s Oyster Bar in Glastonbury, for instance, include New England clam chowder, lobster pot pie, and Max’s Paella.

Dessert and wine are also available.

Advance ordering is required, and service is currently limited to Friday and Saturday evenings.

Max Burger in Longmeadow has also reopened, offering delivery by third-party services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats as well as curbside pickup at the restaurant of orders placed online.

A Chicago-area restaurant, Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, IL, has come up with a social-distancing hack of the traditional dinner date.

Diners that want to enjoy the company of a special someone during dinner can take advantage of the Cafe’s Friday evening “Date Night Dinner Packages.”

For those who wish to dine and socialize, whether it be with a sheltering-in-place friend or a new love interest, Prairie Grass Cafe’s dinner and wine package provides two separately packaged meals that can be paid for together but picked up separately.

The safely-distanced socializing couple can then, as the Cafe puts it in its promotional materials, “…dim the lights, light a candle, Zoom in, and enjoy.”

The restaurant is also promoting a “Kids Make Your Own Pizza Night” kit that includes cut raw veggies with dip; pizza dough, sauce, and toppings; and cookie dough to be baked at home.

Prairie Grass Cafe maintains its web presence at prairegrasscafe.com.

LongHorn Steakhouse locations are promoting their LongHorn Steak Shop program. Offering ready-to-cook filet, ribeye, sirloin, and NY strip steaks as well as the chain’s special recipe seasoning and honey wheat bread, the program also includes sides as well as beer and wine to-go.

The restaurant chain’s regular menu is available for curbside pickup; they are also putting together a selection of family meals for four. More details are available at longhornsteakhouse.com.

There are LongHorn Steakhouse locations on Riverdale Street in West Springfield and on Phoenix Avenue in Enfield.

Villa Napoletana in East Longmeadow is offering a selection of Mother’s Day Family Bundles.

Available for curbside pickup or delivery, each package incorporates choices of entree, salad, vegetable, starch and dessert. Main course possibilities include baked chicken cordon blue, Gorgonzola crusted beef, stuffed jumbo shrimp and more.

The bundles are available in “serves four” and “serves eight” forms with a free rose for Mom included.

Bundles must be ordered at least 48 hours in advance; beer and wine are also available to complement the Family Bundles.

Contact Villa Napoletana at (413) 732-9300 for more information on Family bundles as well as the restaurant’s other takeout options

Not all restaurants and chains have been taking a financial hit during the pandemic. In a recent conference call with Wall Street, the Ann Arbor, IL-base Domino’s Pizza Inc. reported that it had experienced a more than 7% growth in sales during April.

Both delivery and carryout have been strong at Domino’s, with business during lunch and dinner increasing disproportionately to late-night orders.

The chain’s management credits Domino’s Pizza’s fully-developed online ordering system and its contactless delivery option as major reasons for its recent success.

Hugh Robert is a faculty member in Holyoke Community College’s hospitality and culinary arts program and has nearly 45 years of restaurant and educational experience. Robert can be reached online at [email protected]

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