By LOU WILIN
Many restaurants will open today to serve in-house patrons for the first time since March 15.
But the COVID-19 pandemic still casts a shadow.
Customers at KemoSabes Roadhouse Grill, in Fostoria, will find hand sanitizer dispensers mounted to the wall inside the entrance. Customers at restaurants in Findlay, Fostoria and other towns will find fewer tables, chairs and other customers, for that matter, with restaurants forced to limit numbers of diners inside.
In some cases, tables and chairs have been rearranged. Customers will be served by wait staffs wearing masks.
Tony’s Restaurant, in Findlay, is keeping its delectable salad bar on hold for the time being. Owner Tom Brown is not expecting a big crowd today.
“I think it will be light,” he said. “We have an older crowd, and I think they’ll be a little bit more cautious.”
“I don’t think anybody really knows how the public is going to react when everything reopens,” said Marlana Marley, general manager of KemoSabes.
Dark Horse Restaurant, north of Findlay, may have to limit the amount of time customers can linger at a table.
“We need to turn over the tables, that’s what makes us money. And with the girls, the servers, and things like that, that’s how they make their money is table turnover,” said owner Neeli Oler. “That’s something people aren’t going to understand in the beginning, or may be upset about.”
Findlay Brewing Co. is playing it safe. It will not offer in-house dining yet today. It will instead wait a while and hold steady with the carryout service it has been offering since the pandemic hit, said Sarah Foltz, taproom manager.
“Just to play it safe, just to kind of test the waters and see how everything goes as restaurants start opening back up, and to keep our customers and our employees safe,” she said.
In-house dining will return to Findlay Brewing Co. eventually. The restaurant is working on the details. One of those details is keeping smooth customer traffic flow.
At both Oler’s and Dark Horse, customers will be able to exit from the room in which they are seated, Oler said.
KemoSabes, too, will have separate entrance and exit doors to prevent customers from passing each other.
Oler built a new waiting area at the Dark Horse a few years ago because it never had one. The pandemic has shrunk the waiting area’s capacity because Oler had to distance the seats. So in some cases, people’s cars will become their new waiting area. They will have to submit their name and phone number and wait in the car for a call or text message when the restaurant has a table ready.
Fewer tables and chairs in dining areas means less revenue for the restaurant. KemoSabes is trying to offset that by converting a large party room in the back to a second dining room, Marley said.
Restaurants are hoping for better days ahead.
“For lack of a better word, it’s been hell,” Oler said. “It’s been gut-wrenching, really.”
“We’ve been fortunate enough to stay afloat” offering only carryout service in recent weeks, Oler said. “I know some other people haven’t been able to. We’ve had pretty good customers that have supported us and stuck with us. I’ve had people that came in every day, which I can’t be more thankful for, but it’s been rough.”
Oler is not talking only about herself and her business.
“My biggest struggle is my employees” — her voice cracked — “I even tear up talking about it, just because they’ve struggled,” she said. “They get unemployment, things like that, but it’s more than that.”
“It’s being together. It’s them wanting to work, and wanting to be with their customers and stuff,” Oler said. “It’s been a struggle, but now we’ve got them back and we’re ready to go. I mean, it’s full-go and we’re going to try and do our best to make people happy.”
Wilin: 419-427-8413 Send an E-mail to Lou Wilin