Back to indoor dining: Butler County restaurants make many changes for first day

Arlene Williams cleans the bar at Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen & Bar on the first day back for dining in at restaurants in over two months Thursday, May 21, 2020 at Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen & Bar in Middletown. Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen & Bar installed clear shower curtains to seperate diners and is cleaning tables and curtains in between visitors to comply with guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic. NICK GRAHAM /STAFF

Restaurants around Butler County and across Ohio reopened indoor dining on Thursday for the first time in more than two months, with some seeing almost immediate activity.

Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen & Bar in Middletown kicked off the day at 11 a.m. by seating at least half a dozen tables within its first hour.

“I love it,” said customer Sissy Germana. “I missed this place so much. I missed the workers. I was in here twice, maybe three times a week, and it’s so good to be in here and see all these smiling faces.”

Not getting to go out during the past two months of the pandemic was “terrible,” Germana said.

“It just feels so good to just get out and go to your favorite places,” he said. “It’s awesome.”

PHOTOS: Butler County restaurants open for in-person dining

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Clear shower curtains provided the dividers that helped ensure social distancing inside the restaurant, while allowing customers to see the entire place.

“A lot of people laugh, but … it’s for safety and they understand totally,” said Rebecca Roberson, a manager at Bourbon’s. “It was cost effective.”

The restaurant started off the day carrying out a state guideline by taking employees’ temperature, Roberson said.

Bourbon’s also is performing “deep cleaning” between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. each day before reopening at 4 p.m. for dinner service, she said.

“We’ve been taking extra precautions so our guests feel safe, even our staff,” Roberson said.

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Chris Britt, the manager of Agave & Rye in Liberty Twp.’s Liberty Center, said the tacos, tequila and bourbon restaurant is trying to be proactive, rather than reactive. It revamped its menu to include new “epic” tacos, added several new cocktails, including a Bourbon, Black Cherry & Mango-Habenero Slushee, remodeled a bit of each of its four locations and initiated a system aimed at boosting cleanliness and sanitation.

It even dedicated one staffer at each of its locations to be an “Epic Sanitation Ninja,” continually patroling to clean and sanitize surfaces.

There’s also more space between diners at the community tables toward the front of the restaurant and seating at alternating booths, tables and bar seats to foster greater social distancing.

“Luckily, we’re spacious enough here that we have the luxury of a lot of six-feet distances,” Britt said.

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In addition, Liberty Center shut down the street outside Agave & Rye to traffic and allowed the restaurant to place 10 tables there for increased outdoor dining.

The restaurant, Britt said, is “starting to slowly get back to normal.”

“Obviously, we had to take what we do in a restaurant and do a complete 180,” he said. “Restaurants are tightly packed areas, so it’s been a challenge, but I think we’re where we need to be with all the guidelines. We still want to provide that epic experience for a guest, but not in a weird or uncomfortable way.”

At least six tables of customers gathered at Dingle House Irish Pub & Grub in West Chester Twp. in the restaurant’s first hour reopened for indoor dining to partake of the restaurant’s new menu, which temporarily pares down the selection to focus on many favorites, such as the restaurant’s Fish & Chips, Pub Burger, Irish Roasted Chicken and Shepherd’s Pie.

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Adam Clayton, the assistant general manager, said he expected more customers to gather Thursday evening and an even bigger crowd today, which traditionally is the restaurant’s busiest day of the week.

“It’s nice to open the doors again but it’s difficult because of how we have to do it,” Clayton said. “(We’re just trying to be conscientious of all the rules and be compliant with all the things we need to be compliant with.”

Sarah Fast, of Beavercreek, wore a mask to the Dingle House. She spoke about being able to dine with two friends she has known for decades since high school.

“It feels pretty good to be out because I live alone and this is the first time that I’ve been with other people,” Fast said. “It feels good to get in the car and go someplace. I’ve been to Lowe’s and I’ve been to the grocery store and I’ve been to the hardware store and that’s it.”

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