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Outdoor dining draws weekend crowds, revenues for hurting Butler County restaurants

Whitney Wyckoff and Matthew Russell use the outdoor seating at Spoken Bicycles Saturday, May 16. 2020, in Middletown. Outdoor seating for restaurants and bars was reopened Friday after nearly two months of being shut down during the coronavirus pandemic. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Whitney Wyckoff and Matthew Russell use the outdoor seating at Spoken Bicycles Saturday, May 16. 2020, in Middletown. Outdoor seating for restaurants and bars was reopened Friday after nearly two months of being shut down during the coronavirus pandemic. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The first weekend of reopening restaurants and bars in Ohio for outdoor dining amid the coronavirus pandemic “worked out really well” for Butler County businesses, owners said.

“It was nice to see some people outside and nice to pour some beer for the DORA (Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area),” said Otto Bohn, the owner of Middletown’s Spoken Bicycles, which combines bicycle sales and repair with beer on tap and a rotating assortment of cans and cocktails. “It was kind of what I expected. Not crazy, which I think is good.”

While the business typically would only stay open until 4 p.m., it extended hours until 7 p.m. both Friday and Saturday. A steady flow of customers stopped by to enjoy a pint at one of Spoken Bicycles’ three tables or standing nearby in the city’s DORA area.

“I’d say starting around 4 o’clock people started coming out and took advantage of the weather,” he said.

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Cocktails will return to Spoken’s menu board Thursday when indoor service resumes, Bohn said.

“We’re working on a new cocktail menu and we’ve honestly just been too busy,” he said. Growler sales, too, are set to return.

The favorable weather help spur The Casual Pint in Hamilton to not only a bustling weekend of business but also its fifth-most profitable day since opening there last August, according to owner Ann Marie Cilley.

Casual Pint bought 10 high-top bar tables for the usual outdoor seating area adjacent to the restaurant and the front of two neighboring storefronts.

The Marcum apartment complex helped the business extend its patio by giving it 10 parking spots to be used for outdoor dining, roping them off so The Casual Pint could place seven aluminum tables there for its guests.

“I think people really just appreciated the opportunity to sit outside when Mother Nature gave us some breaks in the weather,” Cilley said.

Customers lined up to order food at the bar, then take it outside, she said. That’s a way of doing business likely to continue even as indoor dining reopens in Ohio this Thursday.

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“We’re keeping a little bit of a take-out vibe just to see how the crowds are,” Cilley said. “We’ve noticed throughout the eight weeks that we were closed that it kind of looks like a giant tailgate (party) out on Riverfront Plaza and into the parking lot. We knew it would be a little rough on the servers, plus we’re still operating slightly low on staffing. We’re coming back slowly.”

Serving customers “worked out really well,” Cilley said.

“We only had a couple of spots where our kitchen got a little behind,” she said.

Bob MacKendrick, co-owner of Berd's Grill & Bar in Fairfield, said the return of outdoor dining was steady the entire weekend with "really strong" business on Friday and Saturday due to the support of regular customers from the area and the continued popularity of curbside pick-up.

“I was pleasantly surprised with the response for this weekend,” he said. “I think it was beyond what I expected to come in, especially (Sunday) with the weather. We were still almost full (and) there were people sitting out in the rain, eating. It was a sight to see, I’m tellin’ ya.”

The restaurant, which opened last June, offers the same amount of outdoor seating as it did before Ohio’s dining shutdown — 17 tables on its front patio and seven on its back patio — but moved some tables and combined others to allow for required social distancing, MacKendrick said.

In spite of limits on crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic, a crowd gathered outside a bar in Columbus’ Short North Art District around 11 p.m. Friday, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The bar’s owners told local TV station WBNS that the business has “exactly 45 tables on the patio spaced (six feet) apart. Based on the guideline set forth by the state, we are not allowing parties of more than 10 at each table.”

The health department now has referred a complaint to City Attorney Zach Klein for investigation of possible action against the restaurant-bar, Columbus Public Health spokeswoman Kelli Newman told the Dispatch.

She also said a virus-precautions warning violation was issued to Saturday to Ugly Tuna on Chittenden Avenue.

Ohio’s reopening schedule

Thursday: Restaurants are permitted to reopen indoor dining, with some restrictions. Campgrounds also may reopen.

May 26: Gyms and fitness centers may reopen. Low-contact and non-contact sports, including baseball, tennis and golf, may resume.

May 31: Daycares and childcare facilities will be permitted to reopen.