Sunny skies, a slight breeze and warm temps make for an ideal patio scenario. On any other day in May, dining outside would be a no-brainer. But did a pandemic give anyone pause?
Some restaurant dining rooms reopened at 25% capacity on May 1 as part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to loosen restrictions imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19. Many other restaurants are sticking with takeout and delivery for safety reasons though, as Dallas County recorded a new single-day high for COVID-19 cases on Friday. The county reported 187 news cases and two deaths, and now has 106 deaths and 3,718 cases.
And while many Texas are still staying home, others were venturing out either cautiously or boldly on Friday. Some “don’t really feel nervous at all,” while others experienced “an eerie feeling.” Some wore masks; many not. Here are a few dispatches from several popular restaurant neighborhoods in North Texas.
Handfuls of couples, families and singles were out at the Trinity Groves restaurant complex in West Dallas around lunchtime on Friday, trading their masks for sunglasses to enjoy the first glimpse of dining normalcy we’ve seen since early March.
“I don’t really feel nervous at all,” Diane Kilmer said before being seated at Beto and Sons. “You kind of just know you’re going to keep your space from people and take precautions. My roommate actually tested positive and I never got it from her. She finished her quarantine and is negative now. I’m excited to sit outside and enjoy the nice weather before it gets extremely hot and to see people that aren’t in my house every day,” she said with a laugh.
The majority of customers opted to dine outdoors, and restaurant staff ― including the hostess, wait staff, cook staff and bartenders ― were uniformed in face masks and gloves.
“We hand sanitize, we sanitize the tables before people sit, we sanitize the tables after they sit,” said David Romano, co-owner of Sum Dang Good Chinese restaurant. “I understand the pandemic, and I understand that it’s a need for people to be healthy and be safe, but I think what the governor has done with the guidelines kind of meets us in between. It’s a way to keep people safe, but still gives companies the ability to employ people again and allow us to serve customers ― which I think a lot of people have been clamoring to do.”
While many Trinity Groves restaurants, including Saint Rocco’s, Amberjax and AvoEatery, are able to take full advantage of the 25% occupancy rule, smaller establishments like Cake Bar don’t have enough space to allow people to eat inside and still honor the social distancing guidelines. In addition, there are a handful of restaurants ― like V-Eats and Sushi Bayashi ― that remain under special hours and are only offering for pickup and delivery.
Apparently, sometimes you just have to have cheddar fries.
An hour after they were allowed to open up to diners for the first time in six weeks, a slow crawl up the dining hot spots in Knox-Henderson and along lower Greenville revealed a plethora of mostly empty patios on a sun-kissed, but breezy Friday.
Tacos Mariachi was still closed. A bartender at HG Sply, with its spacious rooftop deck, said the restaurant was still offering only to-go orders, but hopes to open next week. Up the block, a lone foursome of women lingered over the last bit of brunch at Company Café while across the street shoppers waited patiently and with expert social distance for entry into Trader Joe’s.
A little bit further north, though, the patio was bumping ― or at least as “bumping” as a place can get with 25 percent capacity ― at the original Snuffer’s. There were four parties seated on the patio, a pair of dudes at the open-air bar. Inside, underneath windows still plastered with month-old orders to remain closed that had been issued by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, three booths, each separated by an empty booth between them, were occupied. Everybody, it seemed, had the famous cheese fries. And not a care in the world.
“From a consumer safety perspective, we’re following the guidelines and slowing down,” Steve Chambers, COO of the restaurant group that operates a total of 44 units including Snuffer’s and El Fenix, told me later. “We’re doing everything we can to give guests confidence that we are doing that. We would not have opened if we didn’t feel comfortable we could do that. And if we execute in those areas, I think we are going to make you feel more comfortable.”
I had asked because after seeing the crowd, I decided to switch up plans, which had called for just a quick drive-by peek at area restaurants that had decided to open Friday, and instead sat down for a quick lunch and an experiment. The experiment: Could a restaurant make somebody on the fence about dining out right now more comfortable?
A masked and gloved host greeted me at the tent set up for curbside to-go service. She opened both sets of doors to the restaurant to ensure contactless entry. My party of two ― me and Mr. Purell ― were seated at a bare tabletop among a row of three unoccupied tables. I was handed a limited, disposable menu, and a fork on a paper napkin resting on a plate was placed in front of me.
It wasn’t the servers that made me nervous. It was everybody else.
Half the fun of dining out is people watching. In the time of coronavirus, though, that becomes a very intense study. Did I just see somebody sneeze on the way in? There was contact-free entry, but what about leaving? Would people actually use the freshly-installed hand-sanitizer pump by the front door? Those people on the patio were 6 feet apart, but on a windy day, is 6 feet enough? Did I need to put a napkin around the Diet Coke just handed to me?
After every question, I reached for another shot, er, spritz of Purell.
But man, those cheddar fries were good.
On a typical Friday around 6 p.m., the Toyota Music Factory complex in Irving would be buzzing with office workers from the neighboring towers of Las Colinas. But Friday’s happy hour on the first day of relaxed restrictions for restaurants was a more subdued affair.
A stand outside of the Reservoir bar and restaurant near the main parking garage advertised “FREE MASKS,” and a lone attendant handed them out to interested patrons. At Blue Fish Japanese bistro, only two patio tables were occupied. At one of them, two men dining together were outnumbered by a pair of servers wearing masks and gloves attending to them while what appeared to be a manager in mask and gloves monitored from a distance.
The popular Gloria’s Latin restaurant was busier, with diners on the patio and inside. A hostess in mask and gloves was stationed outside the entrance, seeming to track the number of guests who entered. A banner outside the restaurant read “Frozen Margaritas to Go.” And, in general, “to go” seemed to be the focus of many patrons we observed who were parallel parking outside the compound of bars and eateries.
The busiest? Fast casual spot Freshii, which had four patrons, each wearing masks and properly social distancing, in a line snaking outside of the takeout window.
Half of the restaurants along State Street in CityLine Plaza were completely empty Friday at 6 p.m., with signs on their doors announcing temporary closures. But people — mostly mask-less — were still out and about the mixed-use development, enjoying the windy weather. A pair of joggers ran along the sidewalk; a group of six men and women chatted in the plaza, sitting in chairs arranged in a socially distant circle; and pups frolicked in the dog park, their owners seemingly taking care to stay far apart.
Of the street’s 10 eateries, Char’d Kitchen, CoolGreens and Top Pot Doughnuts are open for takeout or delivery only, and Edoko Sushi and Robata and Tricky Fish opened their dining rooms and patios Friday. The parking lot in front of these storefronts was packed with cars, although some stayed only long enough for a curbside pickup.
Two couples without masks sat in booths near Edoko’s windows. Plano resident Mary Hooks sat outside the sushi restaurant, wearing a mask.
When Hooks went into the restaurant to place her to-go order, “It had an eerie feeling,” she said. “The people inside look almost as if they’re in a strange place,” Hooks added.
The tables on Edoko’s patio had signs on them indicating that customers could eat their takeout orders there, but Hooks was firm. “I’m going home.”
Char’d Kitchen had one of its doors propped open with an orange cone, allowing the strong breeze from outside to blow through the restaurant. Chairs were stacked to discourage any sitting, and signs were posted throughout the interior that said “Keep your distance” and “Thank you for social distancing.”
Even though the restaurant is just hanging in there — its business has plummeted by 75% — owner and manager Dominic Doan has opted to keep the dining room closed for the safety of his employees and customers.
“Less people sitting inside means less contact,” Doan said. “I don’t believe Phase 1 should happen now.”
The restaurant, which also has Mansfield and Fort Worth locations owned by Doan’s siblings, is sticking to takeout or contactless pickup for now.
“It’s OK for others to open [dining rooms], but it’s different for small businesses,” Doan said. “If I get sick, the restaurant might as well close.”
Plano’s biggest retail and restaurant hotspots were fairly quiet Friday morning, but diners began to trickle onto now-open restaurant patios as the day creeped closer to lunchtime and the weather remained sunny and breezy.
On Park Boulevard at Preston Road, the newly-renovated Blue Goose Cantina was offering limited patio seating only, plus curbside takeout and delivery. The interior dining room is still closed, but the restaurant blocked off the parking lot in front of the eatery to accommodate six gray picnic tables, each spaced 6 feet apart in compliance with new state guidelines, the area covered with white tents for shade. Four of the six tables were occupied around 12:30 p.m., and a few curious patrons (with no masks on) were strolling up to the curbside tent at the back of the restaurant to place their orders.
Employees donned masks and blue gloves, one carrying a spray bottle of sanitizer and wiping down the unoccupied tables. There was no waitstaff or table service. Diners just order their food curbside, then are welcome to take it home or sit at one of the picnic tables to eat. “We have a staff meeting at 8 a.m. tomorrow to see if we need to make any adjustments,” said manager Katie Williams. “It’s day by day.”
At Shops at Legacy, Legacy West and Granite Park, most people were either out for some exercise or walking their dog. Italian restaurant Taverna had two parties ― one of two and the other of three ― seated on opposite ends of a covered outdoor patio. The waiter was wearing a mask and gloves as he served diners their food.
Taverna’s general manager, Colin Hughes, says they’ve had a steady stream of diners coming in. “Most people are excited to be out and back in restaurants,” he says. They have seats both inside and outside and are monitoring capacity through Open Table reservations.
Source: Thanks https://www.dallasnews.com/food/restaurant-news/2020/05/01/patio-weather-brings-out-diners-on-reopening-day-for-texas-restaurants/