Rainfall failed to discourage patrons from heading to open-air patios as area bars and restaurants offered outdoor table service this past weekend for the first time since the state closed sit-down dining nine weeks ago to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“We opened on Friday, starting at 3 [p.m.] and we had guests immediately on the patio even though it was raining the entire day and most of the night,” Chardon’s Bass Lake Taverne proprietor Erik Heatwole said.
Bret Adams, owner of M Italian in Chagrin Falls and Burntwood Tavern in Chagrin and Solon, said the outdoor opening was “awesome.” Regular customers known as “the rat pack,” ages 70 to 90, were among the first to claim a patio table at Burntwood in Chagrin, he said.
As for M Italian, customers for carry-out are still coming at a fast pace. “There’s been a line for to-go orders that goes up Grove Hill for the past couple of days,” Mr. Adams said. “We don’t want our guests to wait but holy cow it’s crazy,” he said on Monday.
The state is allowing indoor dining with social distancing and other safety protocols beginning today. Sapphire Creek Winery & Gardens in Bainbridge is among the restaurants that chose to wait for a full opening of its 114-seat patio and indoor space at the same time today, said Sally Weinberg, director of events and marketing, highlighted by some new offerings.
Though most establishments did a good job with the outdoor service, Gov. Mike DeWine said, there were outliers prompting the launch of the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Investigative Unit to conduct compliance checks with the threat violators getting liquor licenses revoked.
But across the Chagrin Valley owners and customers appeared to respect the state guidelines.
Tiffany Monday, co-owner of Bell & Flower and FlipSide restaurants in Chagrin Falls, said “the community was wonderful” in their support of reopening for outdoor dining.
“At FlipSide, we only have two tables [in Chagrin Falls] that we’re allowed outdoors because of the space, but we did open up our patio this weekend at Bell & Flower,” said Mrs. Monday, who also co-owns One Red Door and 3 Palms Pizzeria in Hudson and Pinecrest. “Friday was a little bit slower, obviously, because Mother Nature was not so kind to us, but Saturday, we were actually on a wait list.”
Mrs. Monday’s safety protocols outlined by the state include requiring employees to wear masks and wash their hands every 30 minutes. Customers are required to wear masks when first arriving, she said. While there are no barriers just yet, seating has been reduced by half to accommodate social distancing and hand sanitizers are provided throughout the restaurants, she said.
The Bass Lake patio had about 70 people under covered tents during peak business hours on Saturday. Mr. Heatwole said 30 percent of the tables were removed from the patio to maintain enough distance between customers.
“Typically we don’t take patio reservations,” he explained, “but I made an exception because people were calling and I wanted to make sure the regulars knew we would accommodate them.”
Sandy Culter, co-owner of Cru Uncorked in Moreland Hills, said customers readily complied with safety standards. “Our Friday night was rained out but we had a wonderful Saturday night with a full house on our gorgeous patio,” she said.
Manager Bill Cutler said that the patio seating capacity has been reduced from 85 to 51 chairs and there will be no lounge seating. Customers are seated 6 feet apart, he said, and there are several plexiglass barriers throughout the restaurant.
With indoor dining, Mr. Cutler said parties will be asked to wait outside on benches or in their cars until they are invited inside to be seated. Employees are wearing gloves and masks, Mr. Cutler said, and guests are asked to wear a mask until they get to their table.
Larry Shibley, co-owner of Yours Truly in Chagrin Falls and Solon, said that he is strictly following the state’s social distancing guidelines. “Overall our business has been substantially down, but this has given us a bump of 15-20 percent,” he said of the start of outdoor dining.
Tables and chairs are remaining in place, he said, but there is a 6-foot distance or barriers between tables. Outdoor seating in Chagrin Falls remains closed pending approval from the local health department and the village, he added.
Barriers of visqueen plastic sheeting hang from the conduit pipes inside for separation between tables, Mr. Shibley said, and customers have a choice of using a regular menu, disposable menu or a scanned QR code menu using their phone. They can pay by scanning the bill on their phone rather than exchanging cash or a credit card.
Patios openings have given restaurants time to consider improvements for indoor dining.
Mr. Heatwole designed acrylic dividers to place between the booths at Bass Lake Taverne that were custom-built.
“I’ve done almost a dozen restaurants, and you become the jack of all trades over the years,” he said. “In this day and age, people have to be pretty creative, even more so the last two months than prior years. It’s not a work of art, but it’s functional.” He will have to reduce seating capacity by almost 40 percent to install the barriers.
Sapphire Creek’s interior is fairly large and spread out, Mrs. Weinberg said, so no tables need to be removed. Sapphire Creek is offering a new menu with “fresh, vibrant food,” she said. “We’ve got wine slushes, which are delicious, using our own wine.”
Picnic baskets filled with wine, cheese, charcuterie and fresh salad, are another new offering, she said, giving customers the option to enjoy a picnic in the grass if they don’t want to sit at a table.
Paris Room owner Sally McSherry is in a unique boat, in that she doesn’t have an exact date or plan in mind for when to reopen her bistro in Chagrin Falls.
“There are going to have to be some changes when we reopen because we’re a pretty small place,” she said. “We’re a full-service, fine dining restaurant. Because we’re so small, we have some challenges that maybe larger restaurants will not face.”
Ms. McSherry said the dining room currently holds 30 people, so reservations will be a must when seating is reduced as well as specific seating times to help stagger customers and prevent overcrowding.
Safety is key to successful sit-down service in this new age, restaurant owners and manager agreed.
“This has been a trying time for all of us and we’ve been very fortunate within our businesses and the customer support that we have,” Bell & Flower’s Mrs. Monday said. “My staff is suffering as well (in this crisis), but how the community is supporting them is unreal. They know that this is a hardship for everyone, the community has just been so supportive.”