Kentucky dining rooms have reopened to customers for the first time in two months after the state shut them down to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, bars and restaurants are able to serve food inside at 33% capacity and with outdoor seating, but employees and customers must follow new rules and regulations meant to keep everyone safe.
Bill Whitlow, owner and manager of Rich’s Proper Food and Drink, is taking few chances when it comes to safety at his Covington restaurant, even if that means spending extra money on plastic barriers.
“At the bar we took out all the seating and put up plastic shower curtains,” he said.
The bar itself has also been separated from guests. Workers are using special cleaning solution to disinfect tables and other surfaces.
But Whitlow says all the extra work is worth it to once again welcome customers inside.
“The last two months has been tough,” he said. “Luckily, we have been supported by the community greatly, and we pivoted a lot.”
Over in Newport, Strong's Brick Oven Pizzeria founder Christian Strong had to make tough calls as his highest volume restaurant was down roughly 75% during the shutdown.
"We had to do the awful task of meeting with the entire company and we laid off all of our serving staff, all of our cashier and host staff," he said.
In addition, parties must be made up of 10 or fewer people and tables inside and out need to be at least six feet apart. Employees will be required to wear masks while interacting with customers. Kentucky also advises restaurants to create mask policies for customers, which may include refusing to serve guests who aren't wearing a face mask while away from their table or around others.
“We just follow the rules," Strong said, while working on Friday. "Everybody’s wearing masks. We’re wearing gloves. We’re sanitizing.”
And for customers like Desiree Willis, simply going out again on Friday night is a big deal.
"This is like big, just to be able to sit down and have dinner together for a change," she said.
Josh Rhodes, the project manager of Recover Covington, said adding new factors like reduced capacity could hurt many restaurants' bottom line.
“In the restaurant business, you want butts in seats,” he said. “Having the majority of their seats left empty -- it’s going to be very difficult for them to make ends meet.”
Recover Covington is the city’s program to support businesses and neighbors as the economy starts to open back up. The city is allowing restaurants to apply to expand outdoor seating into parking lots, sidewalks and other open spaces nearby to help restaurants get back on their feet while meeting new requirements.
About 12 Covington restaurants have been approved to expand their outdoor seating so far, and you can see a full list of open restaurants at the end of this article.
Some spots, like Rich’s, will wait until next week to try expanded seating just to be sure they have a good handle on the new procedures before taking on more customers.
“I was always taught to go above and beyond,” Whitlow said. “That’s how you get people to support you. So that’s why we’ve done things like put up extra barriers, take extra space between the tables.”
But all those new requirements can still be difficult for some restaurants to keep up with. Bobbie Eldridge, the CEO of Divine Waffles and Weck, said there are a lot of “hoops to jump through.”
“I know that it’s protecting everybody in the best interest, but it’s a lot to go through,” Eldridge said.
Still, Eldridge says she feels relieved that she is opening up her restaurant again, because she knows there are some businesses out there that won’t be.
“It’s been very tough. I know a lot of businesses won’t reopen and we’re lucky to be one of the few that did.”
See a full list of Covington restaurants open for business in the viewer below.