Restaurants reopen dining rooms

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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - UPDATE: 5/21/20

Restaurants in the Mid-Ohio Valley have officially started allowing customers to dine indoors again and both restaurateurs and their customers are glad to be back.

“Man, it feels good. I’m excited. It’s the first time we’ve been out in four months,” said DiCarlo’s patron John Barnette.

But, reopening comes with some new safety precautions on both sides of the river.

“We’ve been in contact with our local health department, obviously. The guidelines are like six foot, chair to chair, so we went through with a tape measure, removed some of our tables, spaced everything out,” said DiCarlo’s Pizza Owner David Hartshorn.

“We’ll be taking names and numbers, calling people if our tables are full. That way they don’t have to wait at our doors and they can take a walk since we’re located downtown, they can take a nice walk and we’ll call them when their table is ready,” said Lisa Walsh, Co-Owner of Over the Moon Pub and Pizza.

The Walshes entered their business agreement just before the coronavirus pandemic began, making the last few months rather stressful. Like others, they are excited for a boost to their business.

“And then COVID hit, so we were sort of hit with the dilemma of how do you start up in a period where you can’t serve?” said Mike Walsh. “So we took the opportunity to really clean the building up and make sure all the infrastructure is in place for restart.”

Despite new opportunities, some restaurants are taking their time to reopen.

“We decided to do the remodel. And we were going to try to reopen today, but we wanted to do it right, so we’re taking the extra time to do that,” said Jennifer Tinkler, manager of Third Street Deli in Marietta.

For some business owners, having to deal with new rules has brought out some mixed emotions.

“Obviously in every restaurant, every chair is money. So, when you’re only operating at fifty percent capacity, it’s kind of a double edged sword. When you come in as a customer, I want to take care of you. I want you to have a good experience, I want you to be happy. But, at the same time, we kind of need to move tables and get people in and out.

That said, Hartshorn said he won’t be rushing any customers.

With new COVID-19 cases being confirmed every day, Hartshorn has more mixed feelings.

“I have a health care background, I spent 20 years as a respiratory therapist. I’ve seen a lot of things over the years, swine flu, different types of flu, different types of viruses and bacteria. Having that background, I understand everyone’s precautions, I do. But at the same time, business owners are struggling. Without small business, this country doesn’t run,” said Hartshorn.

ORIGINAL STORY: 5/20/20
Restaurants in Ohio and West Virginia will be welcoming customers back into their dining rooms Thursday.

Opening up comes with some guidelines.

“We rearranged tables so we would follow the social distancing protocols set by the state. So all of our tables are six foot apart, we rearranged a lot of the restaurant,” said Branden Chambers, a manager at Austyn’s Restaurant and Lounge in Marietta.

He said he was worried about how Governor Mike DeWine would tell restaurants to manage their booths, saying that the restaurant would lose a lot of its seats if they had to stop using them in any way.

“The State of Ohio has said the booths need to be high backed and divided. So ours do meet that requirement because it's up over the back of the booth and a dividing wall between each one,” said Chambers.

As for bars, Austyn’s has had to cut back significantly on their bar seating. On top of being six feet apart from each other, Chambers said bar seats have to be six feet away from any tables near the bar.

“We had to cut back quite a bit on our bar sitting,” said Chambers. “We put tape down on the floor to mark where those bar stools can be.”

In Parkersburg, Jimmy Colombo is getting ready to open Colombo’s Restaurant to dining in.

He said West Virginia recommends waiters and waitresses don’t return to tables as frequently as they would have in the past to reduce contact and to use paper plates whenever possible.

“We can’t do that. A lot of our stuff is put under a flame to melt cheese and stuff,” said Colombo. “We do fall in line with everything else.”

Colombo said he has replaced all the salt and pepper shakers in his restaurant with paper packets, so fewer people touch the same items. He has also removed 120 seats from his restaurant to create extra social distancing space.

“We are going to do everything we can to keep the place safe, not only for people but for our staff too,” said Colombo.

That includes disinfecting tables and chairs in between customers.

Despite his years in the industry, Colombo said these are uncharted waters for him.

“It’s all new territory again,” said Colombo. “It’s been here like 66 years. My dad started the place and it’s like my first time with a new restaurant.”