LIMA – Scott Gasser, general manager of Lock 16 Steakhouse in Lima, on Wednesday may have best summed up the feelings of area restaurant owners as they await the opening Thursday of their establishments to sit-down customers.
“Expect the unexpected,” said Gasser when asked to predict the public’s response to the lifting of statewide restrictions banning restaurants from serving dine-in customers.
“We did two months of take-out business only, and now we’re experiencing a new ‘normal,’ and opening on a Memorial Day on top of everything else,” he said. “We’re not sure what to expect.”
Gasser said a meeting was held Tuesday with restaurant staff in anticipation of welcoming customers inside the establishment beginning Thursday. Regulars will find a few subtle changes: No condiments will be on tables, steak sauce will come in individual servings instead of bottles, and hand sanitizer will be readily available. Wait staff will wear facial coverings.
Reservations will not be required of patrons, but patience may be.
“It’s going to be pretty much business as usual. We’re fortunate to have a pretty big space, and with our tables 6 feet apart we still have room for about 50% occupancy,” Gasser said. “If there’s a line, we will take customers’ names and ask them to wait in their car, and we’ll text them when there’s a table available.”
Waiting to open
At the other end of the uncertainty spectrum, some eateries have elected not to open their doors to sit-down customers quite yet.
A spokeswoman at Fat Jacks, a locally-owned restaurant with three locations in Lima, respectfully declined to be interviewed. She said only that the businesses, which specialize in pizza, sandwiches and salads, will not open for dine-in service Thursday.
“There are still a lot of unknowns at this point,” she said.
The Topp Chalet in Delphos will also wait to open its doors.
Owners John and Erica Pimpas, in a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page, stated that “due to the uncertainty of these unprecedented times, we have decided that the Topp Chalet will not be opening for dine-in services on May 21st. We will continue our carry-out service for the safety of our staff and customers. Due to the guidelines restaurants are asked to comply with, we feel this is the best decision for our business at this time. We want to thank our loyal customers for their continued support, and we look forward to serving you for dine-in services in the near future.”
Then there are restaurants that will be required to give their business model a radical, if only temporary, facelift to accommodate the sit-down public.
Diane Miller, manager at Lima’s Golden Corral, said Wednesday that “there are still a lot of bugs to be worked out,” but plans are to open the all-you-can-eat restaurant to sit-down dining on Thursday. The exact hours the restaurant will be open are still being discussed, she said.
Because the business model of Golden Corral traditionally allows customers to roam from station to station in search of salads, entrees and desserts, Miller said social distancing mandates that remain in effect in Ohio require “that we have to change our whole aspect” of serving the public.
“We will offer cafeteria-style dining,” Miller said, noting that servers will be positioned at every station to fill plates for customers.
At Lombardo’s Cafe on North Main Street in Lima, the doors will open at 6 a.m. Thursday for the first time in nearly six weeks. After initially offering carry-out meals, owner Mark Lombardo closed the establishment around the first of April to keep overhead costs to a minimum.
“To be honest, my profit is in (selling) liquor,” Lombardo said Wednesday. “But tomorrow morning all my help is coming back, and we’ll be open for regular hours — 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m.”
Lombardo said Plexiglass barriers have been installed between booths — a legally permissible option in lieu of an otherwise necessary 6-foot social distancing mandate. The cafe, he said, will be able to accommodate 32 patrons, or one-half of its normal occupancy.
The Red Pig Inn in Ottawa changed ownership late last year and has used the COVID-19 shutdown to make several changes, according to a press release. The restaurant will reopen Thursday to sit-down dining and will host a grand re-opening celebration at 4 p.m. May 28.