Restaurants Move Cautiously As Restrictions Lift

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY SEP 28, 2020

Restaurants in the region greeted news with appreciation and a heaping helping of caution when Gov. Ron DeSantis gave all the clear to run with full capacity. Some will continue to limit capacity at restaurants, perhaps until some medical advance occurs with COVID-19, while others will continue to closely watch testing even as they open their dining rooms.

DeSantis on Friday announced Florida entered Phase Three of reopening following a statewide lockdown intended to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Not only does that mean the state will lift capacity restrictions of 50% occupancy in restaurant dining rooms and bars, but DeSantis said his administration will preempt any local restrictions put in place that close businesses allowed to operate under state rules.

Nancy Krohngold, owner of Nancy’s Bar-B-Q, said her locations in both Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch will remove capacity caps. But she noted both have bountiful outdoor dining in place, with picnic tables already set six feet apart, and she anticipates the public will still show some trepidation about rushing to dine out.

“We will continue masking policies for all our staff and for our dining room, and we will continue our heightened sanitation requirements," she said. "But we will open both stores with 100% capacity. It's about economic survival. No restaurant says we can make our business model work with 50%. Nobody can keep doing that indefinitely."

But since the start of the pandemic, there's been a signiificant uptick in take-out orders, and there's fewer customers electing to eat inside anyhow. Live music in the Lakewood Ranch location plays outdoors. Krohngold anticipates customers will still be wary to fill the indoor seating for some time.

Michael Klauber, co-proprietor of Michael’s On East, still recalls the sudden action the restaurant had to take in March when DeSantis ordered dining rooms closed with hours notice. Since then, the restaurant has adjusted as needed to seating guests more than six feet apart. For the moment, he said Michael’s will still maintain half the capacity allowed pre-pandemic.

“We are also going to preserve our current operational and safety protocols,” he said. “Since the beginning, we have chosen to meet and exceed CDC guidelines and state of Florida guidelines.”

That’s in part, Klauber admits, because the restaurant can afford to do so— at least for now. A base of loyal customers has continued to dine since the floor was allowed to reopen at half capacity, and the fine dining options at Michael’s On East allow the company to keep employees paid. In early October, the restaurant plans for the first time to allow seating in its atrium.

“We have people who feel safe coming to dine with us right now, and we want to preserve those relationships,” he said. “We’re going to pivot, but will pivot to the safety side for now. We just have to wait and see what guests feel comfortable coming together in larger groups. And that’s not something that’s driven by the government.”

Photo: Nancy's Bar-B-Q at Lorraine Corners

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