If gathering restrictions are slowly lifted amidst the coronavirus pandemic, it’s likely to raise questions among restaurant owners about whether their businesses might reopen for dining with reduced capacity.
Anthony Lazzara, for example, has concerns about its benefits. He owns Anthony’s Chophouse in Carmel.
“If restaurants open at 50 percent capacity, personally I don’t think it will help that much with restaurants,” he said. “You’ll be generating a little more revenue but your bills and cost are not 50 percent off, so it doesn’t really help us to get 50 percent of the capacity back in. With us having a larger space, we can spread people out and still get a good amount of people in. It helps alleviate some of the pain because it’s sales, but it doesn’t necessarily fix anything.”
Anthony’s has a capacity of approximately 350 guests, including the 3UP Rooftop Bar. Anthony’s Chophouse offers patio seating as well, but that is weather dependent.
Lazzara isn’t sure how the public will react initially.
“Certain demographics are more susceptible, so are those people going to be going out at all or are they not?” he said. “I’m optimistic that people are so tired of being cooped up, they are going to go out no matter what. But again, how long will that last before the curve jumps back up again?”
Lazzara said his restaurant, which has been offering takeout, features the top scale of cleanliness in daily practices.
“You get a new fork with every bite you take pretty much,” he said. “Everything is made from scratch and it’s extremely clean all the time.”
Lazzara said he isn’t sure if sitting at the bar will be permitted anytime soon because guests are often sitting next to others and the bartender is right in front of the customer.
“If someone sneezes or coughs in a bar, it affects the entire area,” he said.
Lazzara said he is examining financial numbers to see if it would work to open under restrictions.
“In one regard, let me take one month of revenue and cut it in half, so what’s our cost?” he said. “At the same time, I think of my staff and I want to do everything I can to get them money in their pocket. If the business can’t succeed, you’re not going to have a job, anyway.”
If restaurants can break even and meet fixed costs, Lazzara said most would do it.
Kitchen employees would have to wear masks and Lazzara said he would check employees’ temperatures each day.
Bar Louie co-owner Frank Sweeney said his Carmel restaurant partners have been discussing what types of masks would work and daily temperature checks as well.
“We do have very high regular kitchen sanitation procedures in place, but the advent of COVID-19 has raised many new questions and issues,” said Sweeney, whose restaurant has not been offering takeout and is temporarily closed.
For table service, Sweeney said some measures discussed include gloves for every credit card transaction and changing them after each use; separate stations to sanitize pens and menus after every use; use of disposable menus; and removal of all table toppers and caddies.
“In regards to a limited capacity reopening combined with social distancing requirements, I think that is going to be a very tough challenge to navigate, especially for bars and restaurants with a heavy bar component,” Sweeney said. “The social interaction of any good bar is such an important part of the experience. Larger venues like ours at least have the space to be able to spread out seating our patrons as needed and required. That being said, we also have much larger overhead, so if sales are off 60 to 70 percent for an extended period of time, survival will become harder and harder for many restaurants awaiting for the return of pre-COVID-19 business levels.”
Sanitizer stations, foot openers for restroom doors and changing to automatic sinks have been discussed, too.
Papa Fattoush owner Ahmad Al-Maaitah opened his Greek and Mediterranean restaurant in the Arts & Design District in 2018 and has been offering carryout .
“It’s a community safety matter, and reopening gradually with restrictions and keeping physical distancing is very important to our customers, our employees and even us,” Al-Maaitah said. “Our capacity is 25 inside seats and 12 outside seats. Our plan after reopening is to increase the outdoor seating capacity and decrease inside to 50 percent. Kitchen protocol and precautions will stay the same, and new employees will be needed for different shifts, so no crowds at the same shift.”