Remember when you would stroll into a restaurant, see a couple of empty tables in the distance and know that you would be seated soon?
Yep, those days are over for now.
When California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday, May 22, that restaurants could reopen to dine-in customers with the so-called “Phase 2.5” shift, it came with it a laundry list of guidelines that restaurants had to hit in order to open their front doors again.
Restaurant managers and owners had to be able to show that myriad precautionary measures were put in place, training of all staff, a process for compliance, documentation and correction of deficiencies.
And that’s just the first three requirements included in the worksite specific plan that each restaurant is required to be responsible for and be ready to produce if they are ever visited by health officials.
There is a litany of requirements when it comes to training staff about how to recognize symptoms pertaining to the COVID-19 virus, the proper use of face coverings, symptom screening and temperature checks.
Let’s talk about cleaning and disinfecting procedures, or maybe we can dive into physical distancing guidelines? The list goes on and on.
That’s why businesses such as Texas Lil’s Mesquite Grill in Old Town Temecula have only recently begun to let customers dine inside the restaurant, easing in slowly, like a soft opening.
Owner Pedro Esparza was sitting at one of the tables, chatting with friends and family while talking about opening the restaurant officially Friday, June 4.
“We’re kind of getting our crew trained,” Esparza said. “We’re finding that most of our customers don’t want to mess with wearing masks, so we’re not going to require it, but all of our servers will wear masks. Our cooks and back end staff will wear masks and gloves.”
Esparza and his restaurant have been closed for three months, though they did take the time to make some improvements and spruce the place up a bit.
He was “mostly excited” about getting closer to reopening.
“Mostly excited,” he said. “I’d like to be able to do a little more because there are some restrictions on the bar now with the six-foot seating.
“A problem we have is that with every other seating it limits your seating, but you still have the same operating expenses as before and the payroll is still the same.”
Finch in Wildomar was reopening Thursday to guests for the first time during the 5 p.m. hour and manager Sarah Inlow was ready to go.
“I went over the CDC guidelines, OSHA, all of the information, even if it was true or not to, get as much information as I possibly could to make sure that my staff and guests were safe,” she said. “This includes spacing tables out, which is removing tables from the restaurant altogether, supplying gloves and masks for our staff, hand sanitizer practically everywhere around the restaurant. Really just educating our staff on the California guidelines, not necessarily going along with what everyone else is doing, but just making sure that no matter what we’re going along with the rules.”
According to Inlow, all the hard work was about making guests and employees feel comfortable coming back to work.
“At the end of the day everyone’s nerves are a little bit racked,” she said. “It’s kind of like religion, you don’t necessarily want to talk about it. But at the end, I just want to make sure that everyone is comfortable coming back to work and that our guests tell their friends that Finch is a safe and comfortable place to eat.”
She said the restaurant hasn’t had an issue with employees wanting to stay on unemployment and that they are eager to get back to work.
“Everyone was very happy when they left, they were very happy with the jobs that they had,” Inlow said. “We did have a few nervous people. We had some serious conversations with some employees who had been affected by coronavirus within their families or friends.
“We’re starting out with a really small staff and everyone is on board and ready to work and ready to get back to their life basically,” she said.
At Devilicious Eatery in Old Town Temecula, diners were spaced out with tables alternating. As one table gets filled, they adjust a card on the tables near it that they are not available, that way the hostess won’t seat someone too close.
“One of the biggest things that are new for us, obviously the masks and all of the servers are in gloves too, but we are not doing any menus,” a manager said. “We’re not handing them out. We have QR codes for everything. For our menu, for our drinks, for beer, so people are just scanning it, and it opens up on their phone.”
They also plan on continuing to provide to-go food as they have been for the past few weeks.
“We have been so grateful that the community has been so good to us the whole time,” she said. “We were actually closed for a full month. We just started doing takeout about three, four weeks ago. We did that for a few weeks and then just opened for sitting inside this past Tuesday. We’re gonna keep doing (takeout) as long as the community wants it. We still see that that’s about half of our sales right now.”
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at email@example.com.