Restaurants adjust to new social distancing guidelines as they reopen to indoor dining

Posted at 5:21 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 19:28:24-04

CINCINNATI — It’s a day that Dean Gregory thought would never come.

Gregory, the manager at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse, welcomed diners into his restaurant Thursday afternoon for the first time in just under two months.

“We thought this would never happen, and we’re happy this happened so quickly,” he said.

But things aren’t totally back to normal. There have been a lot of changes inside dining rooms to keep customers safe and to comply with new regulations.

Some of the changes at the Boathouse include the implementation of throwaway menus, fewer tables and reduced hours. The table service will look different for diners as well — shareable items such as spices and condiments are a thing of the past.

“They’ll have their silverware, they’ll have their napkin. That’ll be about it,” Gregory said. “If they want salt and pepper, we’ll bring it out in little packets.”

Capacity is way down at the Boathouse. Gregory said normally he would seat about 550 people for dinner, but with the limited amount of tables, he can only serve 160. Even so, he and his employees are happy to be back.

"My crew has been dying to come back to work," he said. "We all have. We miss our customers. We have so many regulars."

A little farther east, there are X’s marking the spot for people to stand at a distance at Echo in Hyde Park. The owners there are using innovative techniques to adapt to the social distancing guidelines, including touchless menus accessible by scanning a QR code with a smartphone.

“We really utilized the barrier concept to put barriers between all the booths in the room and all the booths in the other room,” said owner Stephanie Surgeon.

Echo regulars Jim and Christine Stiegler have been waiting for this day. The couple have been eating at the restaurant together for more than 40 years and sat in their car across the street when it was carryout only.

Their excitement about reopening isn’t just for the food but for the company, too.

“We really missed eating in and seeing all the people that we see every week,” Christine said.

Down in Over-the-Rhine, arrows instead of X’s direct customers on the proper flow and proper social distancing guidelines at Taft’s Ale House. The shape is different, but the concept is the same: Stay at a safe distance so restaurants can stay open.

“Gloves, cleaning, you name it, we’re doing it,” said host Nicholas Tsangaris.

In addition to separating tables and paring down its menu, Taft’s Ale House is changing table service, too.

“All of our serving instruments, the cups, the plates, the spoons, the forks, the napkins, are all paper so we don’t have to run the risk of contaminating anything that could go through in permanent cycles,” Tsangaris said.

Even though Gov. Mike DeWine has allowed indoor dining to resume in Ohio, it doesn’t mean that all restaurants are able to reopen.

Zip’s in Mt. Lookout said because of the size of its space, it will continue carryout for the time being. Walnut Hills restaurants Parkside Cafe and Fireside Pizza are in the same boat and will wait to reopen.