Opening dining rooms not an easy decision for some Columbus restaurants in COVID climate

Coronavirus

Restaurants across Columbus are reopening for dine-in customers after nearly two months of being shut down. 

What owners and operators are finding is there is no playbook coming out of the COVID-19 crisis. News 3 talked to two owners, taking two different approaches to reopening their businesses.

11th and Bay, opened for dine-in customers on Wednesday the first time since Tuesday, March 10th.

Just as restaurants look to provide a unique, individual experience, the decision to reopen dining rooms is a individual one.

More than two weeks ago, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp allowed for in-restaurant dining — with tight restrictions.

“The day we closed down,” 11th and Bay operator Michael Harrell told News 3. “I had 190 seats and could comfortably put 200 seats in here. Based on the guidelines that were given to us recently, 52 in the dining room and 20 on the patio.”

Harrell is just now reopening the dining room after surviving for weeks on take-out orders. One of the advantages of being in an old cotton warehouse is space.

A block away, the quarters are tighter at EPIC, Columbus only AAA four-diamond restaurant. Owner Jamie Keating is going to stick with an enhanced pickup and delivery business augmented by selling meat and other provisions.

“We are not opening at this point in time for many reasons,” Epic owner Jamie Keating said. “At this point in time, mandates and declarations are changing daily. As we sort through that, it is very important for us to know and understand for our guests’ safety, as well as our family, our team members that work here.”

Harrell is going to approach the social distancing requirements from the state in a methodical way.

“Some of the places I have gone into, there is no effort to politely remind people we need to be practicing social distancing,” he said. “I have made up my mind I am going to handle that situation. … I am going to handle just as if I were going to cut somebody off who’s had too much to drink. I am doing it to save your life, his life. That’s how we are handling it here.”

And he hopes that works.

“As long as everybody is doing what they are supposed to be doing, it will be a great experience,” he said.

Keating has owned and operated Epic since 2012.

“We have to be thinking very, very, very smart,” he said. “And our business model is personal attention to the tenth degree. We are very close to our diners and there’s a lot of interaction that needs to happen there.”

11th and Bay is doing four seatings, reservations only. There will be no more than 52 customers in the dining room at any one time.

Harrell has been creative, using old doors as a barrier to allow more people to sit at the bar.

He hopes his timing is right.

“Based on the number of calls I am getting over the last week, I think there are a number of people ready to take the chance going out.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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