Restaurants reopening indoor dining: What will be different in Butler County

Restaurants reopen indoor dining in Ohio today following a more than two-month statewide hiatus, and local restaurateurs must adapt to a wide array of new regulations.

Tano Bistro owner Tano Williams said his locations in Hamilton and Loveland will, like all other eateries, ensure staffers wear masks, check employee temperatures and space tables to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

The restaurant will remove some of its tables while leaving others unused and without chairs, Williams said. That means instead of being able to sit 170 people both inside and outside the Hamilton location, seating capacity will temporarily be reduced to about 110.

“We’re going through unchartered territory here, and at the end of the day, you’ve got to roll with the punches,” Williams said. “Right now, the punches are comin’.”

Reducing seating represents “a major crimp” in a restaurant’s way of doing business, Williams said.

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“Obviously you lose your abiltiy to maximize Friday and Saturday, but what it does do, and this is what I’m hoping and I’m praying for, is that it helps spread it out throughout the week just because of supply and demand,” he said.

Gracie’s in Middletown will shift from a mix of indoor and outdoor seating to an “extended patio” model, according to owner Ami Vitori.

“I’m hoping to just do outdoor,” Vitori said. “We have a big tent and a few smaller covered areas. Weather permitting, we could consider doing a few tables indoor with the roll-up doors open, but I really want to try to keep it just outdoor for now.”

Doing so means reducing the amount of seating from 65 to 50.

“Typically, with good weather, the patio is full and the inside is slim, so hopefully Mother Nature works with us,” Vitori said.

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Although Vitori said reopening is a welcome task, Gracie’s plans to ease in with limited hours of 4:30 to 9 p.m. today, 4:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.

For the past seven weeks, the ORA has conducted a weekly business impact poll to determine the ongoing health of restaurants across the state during COVID-19, revealing that cumulatively, more than four in 10 Ohio restaurants had closed, and of those, 3% will not reopen. The data also found that nearly half of Ohio’s restaurants had experienced year-over-year sales losses of more than 70% and more than half of the 585,000 employees in the industry are laid off or furloughed. Also, 87% of operators plan to re-open their dining rooms today or shortly after.

Gracie's and Tano Bistro signed up for the Ohio Restaurant Promise, a pledge to take all necessary steps to protect customers and employees during the return to dine-in offerings. The effort was organized by the Ohio Restaurant Association, in partnership with restaurant owners and operators and state health officials.

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“Health and safety of our customers and staff has been and will continue to be paramount,” Vitori said.

Williams said he undertook the Ohio Restaurant Promise so customers and employees feel safe.

“We’re a higher standard of execution,” he said. “I think with that comes the responsibility of being a step above, doing a little bit more than just the basics in terms of operational execution.”

Ongoing concerns for restaurant owners include facing new operating expenses, such as personal protective equipment for workers, new disinfection and sanitizing supplies and the addition of new required cleaning and hygiene protocols, according to the Ohio Restaurant Association.

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Before the pandemic, both locations of Tano Bistro were at “perfect staffing levels,” he said.

“Right now, with a drop in perceived revenue, we obviously don’t need people as bad as we did before just because of revenue”, Williams said. “The hard thing to determine is how much you really need coming out of the gate. At the end of the day, you have to run a business at restricted revenue, so it’s a very diffcult task, probably one of the greatest difficulties I’ve ever seen and I’ve been in this business over 40 years.”

Williams said he foresees a learning curve for customers, but the good news is there have already been “lessons learned” from the May 12 reopening of non-essential retail.

“They already know what the six-foot rule is standing in line, that kind of thing, so at least some of the homework’s been done,” he said.

Under the current Ohio Department of Health Director’s Dine Safe Ohio Order:

• Open congregate areas of bars and restaurants remain closed;

• All guests must be seated when eating or drinking;

• Foodservice establishments must take affirmative steps with customers to achieve safe social distancing guidelines;

• Social distancing in lines and between tables is required;

• Most employees will be wearing facial coverings; and

• Restaurants and bars should have someone assigned on each shift to take responsibility for assuring these requirements are met.

SOURCE: Ohio Restaurant Association

Ohio’s reopening schedule

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

Tuesday: 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.

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