Some restaurants open dining areas at half capacity as COVID-19 restrictions change

Megan Hatton was excited to go to a restaurant and dine in this week instead of ordering carryout.

She and her family chose Applebee’s in Seymour. But the experience was not the same as she remembered.

“It was awkward and totally felt like I was doing something illegal,” she said.

Some local restaurants reopened their dining rooms this week to 50% capacity to stay within the state’s COVID-19 guidelines. Others have decided to continue offering only curbside and carryout service.

Hatton said Applebee’s has implemented a lot of measures to protect customers and staff, but it changed the whole experience of dining out.

“They have markings that are 6 feet apart when you come in. They have tables blocked off with a sign referencing social distancing,” she said. “Employees are wearing masks. They also wear gloves. They’re using paper menus and have a limited menu, and their utensils are bagged.”

Even with all of the safety precautions in place, Hatton said she plans to continue to stay home to eat.

Misty Poole, co-owner of Luke’s Country Inn in Dudleytown with her husband, Terry, said their business is doing more carryout than it ever has before.

Dine-in reopened earlier this week, but she said that part of the business has been very slow.

“People are still scared to get out,” Misty said.

The restaurant has two separate indoor dining areas and picnic tables outside to encourage social distancing. Other precautions include staff members wearing masks and using disposable items, including menus and plastic utensils.

Larrison’s Diner, a popular eatery in downtown Seymour, also reopened Monday for dine-in service at 50% capacity. They have adjusted hours, serving breakfast from 9 to 11 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Owner Liz Larrison said she was able to successfully reopen thanks to financial assistance from the the federal Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. The program is providing small businesses with the resources they need to maintain their payroll, hire back employees who may have been laid off and cover applicable overhead.

“We probably wouldn’t have reopened without it,” she said.

She hopes to be able to go back to regular hours, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., in June or July.

Kristin Bolte of Seymour said she stopped in Larrison’s for lunch Tuesday.

“It was great to feel a bit of normalcy, and of course, the food was wonderful,” Bolte said. “Half the tables are marked off. There are no napkins or condiments on the tables, but it was great to see all the familiar faces behind the masks.”

Larrison said their carryout service has increased a lot, and they have delivered some big orders to local businesses.

“Monday was great and we had a good return, and a lot of our regular customers came back,” she said. “A few people are wearing masks in. Then they eat and put the mask back on before they leave.”

Larrison said she has been looking into new services for carryout, like the ChowNow online ordering system.

“Right now, though, everything is such a juggling act that I want to wait awhile before starting anything new,” she said. “I want to see if that would even fit our demographics, but I’m thinking about new avenues because we might have to, and this situation has forced us to rethink some things.”

Steve Stoner of Columbus was glad to be back inside Larrison’s to eat Thursday.

“This is my first dine-in since all of this has happened,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of carryout lately, so now that we can come in, it feels like being out of jail.”

Stoner said he’ll be glad when places open up even more because he misses the people he used to see.

“A lot of them aren’t on the internet, so you don’t know how they’re doing,” he said. “So it’ll be good when everything is back as it ought to be.”

Rails Craft Brew and Eatery in downtown Seymour reopened its dining room and patio for customers on Monday, too.

After Gov. Eric Holcomb issued the stay-at-home order March 23, Rails remained closed until May 7. At that time, they began doing curbside pickup and carryout with limited hours.

“Now, we’re starting back with our regular hours and the patio is open,” general manager Dana Christian said. “We also have seating upstairs and downstairs, all at 50% capacity.”

Tables and chairs are 6 feet apart, and there is no bar seating available right now. All staff members are wearing masks and making sure to clean and disinfect regularly.

“So far, things are a lot better than I thought they would be,” Christian said.

Each day seems to bring in more customers as people get comfortable dining in again, she said.

“Mondays and Tuesdays are typically a little slower, but I feel like we did pretty good,” Christian said. “People are coming in, and they don’t seem scared or nervous.”

The Brooklyn Pizza Co. and The Seymour Brewing Co., owned by Shawn Malone, isn’t opening its dining room and bar area back up until July 2. They continue to offer curbside pickup and delivery, though.

“We were one of the first to close our doors and will probably be the last to open them back up,” he said. “While we hate not having our friends, neighbors and family back in our restaurant, we want to keep health and safety a priority for our employees and customers.”

Beginning June 1, Malone said he plans to have extra outdoor seating available and is planning a full lineup of outdoor summer concerts at Harmony Park starting July 3.

“We cannot say ‘thank you’ enough for the amazing support you have showed us during these unprecedented times,” he posted to customers on Facebook.