As Ohio restaurants prepare to again offer outdoor dining today and indoor dining on May 21 with restrictions, a major operator in the region says things will be different but the businesses are prepared to adjust.
“A big concern for the governor is when people start drinking,” said Britney Ruby Miller, President of Jeff Ruby Entertainment and daughter of founder Jeff Ruby who represents one of 35 restaurant operators that have been working with the Ohio government on the reopening.
“When people drink, they get a little loosey, they might forget about social distancing. In the hospitality industry, we’re trained to never say ‘no’ to the guest. But it’s a privilege to be reopening (under these circumstances). Operators will be trained to handle the situation.”
Although bar areas will be open, there will be no “open congregant areas,” which means no dance floor, no standing around, no hovering. Anyone who wants to drink in the bar will sit on a stool or chair. Masks are not required in either the bar or dining areas, but servers will wear them.
There will be six feet between parties, and individual parties cannot have more than 10 people.
Some questions remain. How will social distancing work with booths? Or smaller restaurants that don’t have the space to place tables six feet apart?
“People have been getting very creative,” Miller said. “Plexiglass is a possibility, or just some kind of physical barrier or hard surface. I heard one place might use shower curtains. Whatever they use, everything will be sanitized after each use.”
Miller said the process for reopening has been intricate, but restaurants are uniquely placed to meet the challenge.
“We’re already highly regulated,” she said. “We’re used to accommodating inspections and sanitation issues. We know what best practices are.”
Some of those practices include a daily check-in process, where employees are screened for symptoms and body temperatures, the elimination of the self-serve buffet and certain garnishments. Miller said large and small operators have different challenges.
“Everyone is hemorrhaging,” she said. “Revenue fell to zero overnight. PPE (personal protective equipment like masks) doesn’t suit restaurants very well. The smaller operators have been really pushing because until the federal stimulus comes through, a significant amount won’t make it.”
Jeff Ruby restaurants do not have a reopening date yet, partially because they have more employees to train on the new procedures.
“We’re being very thorough,” Miller said. “We’re checking our SOP manuals, drafting protocols for the new training. We had to lay off 500 people initially. We’ve brought a lot of them back for our carryout services. We’ll make an announcement in the next couple of weeks. How many more people we can bring back depends on demand.”
Americans have been sending contradictory signals, a conflict between fears for their health and wanting to get out of the house and live somewhat normally again.
“I watch the news a lot and have seen the statistics that many people don’t want to come out, but as soon (as the reopening) was announced, our phones started ringing off the hook,” Miller said. “You’re probably not going to be able to walk in anywhere.”
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