Diners are returning to Tampa Bay area restaurants for sit-down service now that the state is letting them reopen with limited capacity.
Several local eateries that chose to reopen Monday said they were pleased with initial turnout.
The nice weather made the riverfront outdoor patio at Jackson's Bistro Bar and Sushi in downtown Tampa a desirable place to lunch.
General Manager Miles McConnell said within the first few hours of opening the restaurant served about 25 tables, all outside, and could have sat more.
Outdoor tables are spaced six feet apart to comply with Centers For Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to control the spread of the coronavirus. McConnell said employees are practicing strict cleaning measures, including sanitizing menus after each use and providing hand sanitizer to customers with their bill.
“I think everybody may be a little uneasy, but everyone was so grateful that A. we were open, not a lot of restaurants were able to get open in this short of time,” he said. “They were extremely excited to sit outside and be out in nature and close to the water, that was a big plus for them. And I think people have had enough with being cooped up inside, and they can tell as soon as they walk in that we're going to all these great lengths to make sure we're very sanitary and clean."
Parkshore Grill in downtown St. Petersburg also benefitted from outdoor seating, which executive Chef Tyson Grant said they were able to expand because the condo association that controls the building the restaurant is located in allowed them to spread tables out more than usual.
Grant said the patio reached capacity at times and the restaurant was booked for dinner. He said most tables were parties of two and singles, with a few groups of four.
Staff wore masks and gloves, and Grant said they were happy to return to work.
“They’re loving it, they’re all happy to see each other,” he said. “A lot of people gave up their unemployment, they’d rather be working, they said they couldn’t stand staying at home anymore, so it’s good to see, we’ve got a good crew.”
Bringing employees back to work was a big positive for Suzanne Perry, owner of the Datz Restaurant Group, who said some staff members have been working with their company for more than a decade.
Their St. Petersburg Datz location and Dr. BBQ reopened quietly Monday while Datz and Dough in Tampa will open Tuesday. Perry said they had to get creative to increase outdoor capacity, as the restaurant only has a small patio.
“We’re using our parking lot as seating, we’re using our green spaces outside as seating, so we’re going to have more people seated outside than inside,” she said, emphasizing that proper distancing is still in place.
Perry had been preparing to open a new Datz location in Riverview and had hired 75 staff for it just before the shutdown. She said those staff will be able to return for training and hopefully the new restaurant can open soon.
Hooters restaurants also reopened in the region. Manager Isidro Mancebo at the Hillsborough Avenue location in Tampa said with restrictions limiting indoor seating to 25 percent capacity, the restaurant reached its limit during the peak of the lunch rush and he expects crowds will be larger at night.
Mancebo said Hooters employees are keeping a safe distance from patrons and the restaurant is using a lot of disposable materials.
Besito Mexican restaurant in Tampa’s Westshore Plaza held off opening until dinner service, but managing partner Andres Farfan said the phone has been ringing off the hook.
The restaurant is opting not to take reservations because Farfan doesn't want to kick customers out if they linger.
"I know that we haven't been out in a while, so I feel like people are definitely going to sit longer than in the past," he said.
Farfan is telling customers to call before they leave the house to find out if they can get a table as they will not be allowed to wait for one inside.
He said staff will offer takeout service to people waiting outside, however.
Farfan is anticipating a busy day Tuesday for Cinco de Mayo, which this year falls on “Taco Tuesday,” a popular weekly tradition in the restaurant industry.
For those who can’t get a table to celebrate the holiday, Besito and a number of other restaurants in the area are offering taco family platters and containers of margaritas to take home.
Many restaurants are continuing to stick to take-out only while others like the Columbia and Ulele in Tampa remain closed altogether.
"We respect and appreciate the governor’s announcement,” said Richard Gonzmart, President of the Columbia Restaurant Group in a Facebook post over the weekend. “While we’re now allowed to reopen, we will decide what that means for each of our restaurants. It might mean takeout or outside seating at some of our locations, but it’s too soon to know what or when.”
“Whatever happens will be gradual, and safe for our guests and staff. We’re also watching other states very carefully to see what happens with restaurants there.
The group’s diner Goody Goody opened for takeout over the weekend.
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