Coronavirus In Ohio: High-End Restaurants Rethink Indoor Dining

May 21, 2020

Lindey's is a German Village staple, but their Beck Street-facing dining room, all hardwood and red leather, looks a bit different than usual.

“Normally, there would be three tables right here, three four-tops,” says Grant Cassidy, the restaurant’s head of catering and sales. “As you can see, there’s just two two-tops spaced out.”

Cassidy turns to a long booth running through the center of the room. Instead of accommodating five tables, now there are only two.

As restaurants around the state open dining rooms to customers again, they’re having to rethink much of what they do. According to Ohio Restaurant Association surveys, 82% of them plan to open Thursday or shortly thereafter, but 3% of Ohio’s restaurants won’t reopen at all.

Every restaurant will face challenges. But for high-end restaurants, the emphasis on service can run counter to demands for distance.

In addition to the scaled-back layout, Lindey’s patrons can expect to see wait staff in masks and gloves. Cassidy says servers will also be taking some less-obvious precautions.

“You might go up to the bar, grab drinks for three tables, and you drop of the drinks at one table, then the next table, then the next table. That won’t happen,” Cassidy says. “So basically you go to one table, once you’re done with that table you go back, you change gloves, you sanitize, things like that, then you can go to your next table.”

Signage at the entrance of Lindey's.
Credit Nick Evans

A few weeks ago, the Ohio Restaurant Association rolled out what it calls the Ohio Restaurant Promise, detailing a list of best practices for restaurants and their guests to follow. ORA president and CEO John Barker says at least temporarily, dining out is going to look and feel different, with restaurants trying out mobile apps for ordering or single-use paper menus.

“But it’s better than no experience,” he says. “And so I think that’s what guests are really looking forward to, they want to—they’re tired of cooking—and they want to go out and go to their favorite restaurant and have a great experience, even if it’s not exactly the same as it was before.”

That pent-up demand was on full display as patrons crowded some bar and restaurant patios around Ohio last weekend. Those establishments drew a sharp rebuke from Gov. Mike DeWine, although he insisted that most restaurants and bars handled the patio re-opening well. 

Still, those scenes makes Josh Dalton nervous. He owns Veritas in Columbus as well as the Delaware restaurants Speck and 1808. Rather than opening right away, he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.

“If they shut us back down again, if we have to go back into quarantine, that is the nail in the coffin,” Dalton says. “I won’t reopen the restaurants, period.”

He says the Delaware restaurants will open for carryout only on June 2, and if he can make ends meet, he’ll keep those dining room closed for the foreseeable future. He’s got a bit more breathing room with his landlord in Columbus, so Dalton is planning to hold off re-opening Veritas until after the July 4 weekend.

Grant Cassidy at Lindey's in German Village.
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU

Dalton says his primary concern is keeping the staff safe, and he’s adding new measures for his dining rooms.

“We’re going to have a fogger that we disinfect the restaurant [with] each night, we’re going to have UV boxes so we can put all our masks in daily, we’re going to have UV wands that go around the restaurant, especially like cloth seating,” Dalton says. “I’m not too sure if any of this stuff works and kills COVID-19, but at the same time, I would rather take every precaution that I can.”

Cassidy says the crowded patios gave Lindey's pause as well. That’s why they’re keeping their bar area closed and prohibiting customers from waiting on-site.

He notes they wanted to head off the problem before it developed, rather than make their wait staff police customers eager for a night out.

And there won’t be any shortage of those eager customers. Cassidy says by Tuesday morning, they were fully booked for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.