The return of dine in services

Published 7:00 am Saturday, May 9, 2020

Restaurants in Mississippi are allowed to reopen their dining areas as of Thursday but only at 50 percent capacity, after a new Executive Order from Governor Tate Reeves, but for some restaurants reopening a dining area with a lower capacity does not make financial sense.

Sherral’s Diner in Carriere has been doing curbside and pickup orders, said owner Jeremy Helper, who said he’s not planning to reopen the dining room yet.

“We’re taking it on a week by week basis,” said Helper.

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The restaurant had to reduce staff when the dining room was forced to close and reopening would mean bringing on additional staff. With a dining room that only sat 74 to begin with, keeping tables six feet apart would shrink the restaurant’s capacity to 34 people.

“That’s why I’m not sure financially if it would be a good move,” he said.

Week to week restaurant owners are looking at how many customers are calling to see if the dining area is open, and so far only a few are. Helper said it seems as if customers are scarce at the restaurants that are open.

“There’s still a lot of people that say they’re glad we’re still just doing take out only,” he said.

Brother’s Pride also had no plans to reopen the dining room Thursday, said manager Kevin Kovacevic. The owners of the restaurant were already planning to renovate the front of house to reduce the size of the dining area and expand the number of fresh items offered.

With the dining room closed, the owners decided to move forward with the plan and eliminate part of the dining area to create a shopping area with deli items. The renovation will keep the dining area closed for at least two weeks.

The business initially began by offering fresh meats and sausages, and now the owners want to expand that side of the business, said Kovacevic. The owners want to be able to accept EBT, but to be eligible for EBT the business needs at least 50 percent of sales to be fresh items, he said.

Some of the state guidelines also seem impractical for the small business, said Kovacevic. Devoting one member of the small staff to screening dine in customers would be ineffective, he said.

Helper was also concerned about the requirement to screen customers, in part because he was not clear what the staff would be required to do to screen customers.

Kovacevic said larger restaurants that do more evening dine in business may be better prepared to follow the guidelines to reopen their dining rooms, but Brother’s Pride is continuing with their fresh meat and deli sales.

Mi Sol Azteca will be reopening its dining room on Monday, said General Manager Areli Barajas.

Barajas is not too nervous about getting sick herself, but she is nervous about customers coming in more contact with each other and with her employees.

“More than anything I want my employees to stay safe,” she said.

Barajas said she feels like the staff and customers will be okay as long as the restaurant stays on top of cleaning and follows the state guidelines.

“If they’re giving us the opportunity to open back up, we’re taking it,” she said.

When the shelter-in-place order began, Barajas was worried they would not have enough business. The staff did have to be reduced. But take out orders have been plentiful, especially after the restaurant began offering family specials where customers can buy food in bulk.

On Cinco de Mayo, normally a busy day for the restaurant, the business’s phone died and customers had to wait 45 minutes to an hour for their orders.

Barajas was surprised by how willing they were to wait. Even without alcohol sales, the restaurant sold almost as much as on a regular Cinco de Mayo.

“We are very blessed. We have a lot of loyal customers,” she said.

Always wearing masks and gloves will be an adjustment for employees, she said, but the restaurant is going to try to protect its staff and customers as much as possible, said Barajas.