Atlanta restaurant dining rooms reopened Monday to mixed feelings



Restaurants around metro Atlanta began to reopen dining rooms Monday, as some business restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic were lifted by Gov. Brian Kemp.

With Georgia being one of the first states to reopen for full-service dining, people around the country watched to see which restaurants would open, whether there was a customer base to support dine-in service and what the experience would look like.

By 7 a.m. Monday, some metro Atlanta Waffle House locations had begun to open their dining rooms. The popular chain has kept 330 of its 400 restaurants in Georgia open for takeout during the pandemic. On Monday, those units began incorporating requirements for sit-in dining Kemp issued in his most recent executive order, said Waffle House spokesperson Njeri Boss.

The set of 39 guidelines requires all employees to wear masks, and limits to a maximum of 10 customers per 500 square feet of floor space and a maximum of six diners per table.

Other national chains also opened, including Jason’s Deli, Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar and Chronic Tacos, some the first in their chains and likely litmus tests for reopening scenarios. Some local, independent operators decided they, too, were ready to welcome guests safely to their dining rooms.

“We’ve gone over the guidelines ad nauseam,” said Rich Clark, who reopened Hugo’s Oyster Bar in Roswell and C&S Seafood & Oyster Bar in Vinings for full service.

In addition to the basic gloves and masks, his restaurants have limited seating by an additional 25% beyond Kemp’s guidelines, Clark said. Based on the square footage of the restaurants, that means no more than 50 people in each dining room at any time. As of Monday morning, C&S had 40 dinner reservations. Hugo’s had 20.

All but four of Clark’s 115 employees opted to return to work. “My people, at least, wanted to go back to work,” Clark said. The employees who opted not to return were told they could come back when they wanted.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

1920 Tavern in Roswell was fully booked for dinner service on Monday, with spaced-out seating, said co-owner Jenna Aronowitz. The restaurant planned to seat 10 people in the front of the establishment and 10 in the back, she said. The Canton Street restaurant has thermometers to take patrons’ temperatures; hand sanitizer on each table; masks for staff, she said.

“It’s a lot of responsibility and we are taking it seriously,” she said.

1920 Tavern owners, like those at some other eateries reopening Monday, heard from people who think the restaurant reopened too soon for sit-down dining.

“I have to feed my family. My employees are like family. I told them, ‘I’m investing in you.’ And now they’re here ready to go,” Aronowitz said.

Longtime customer Bart Van Linden said the tavern is one of his mother Sabine’s favorite places. They had been buying takeout meals practically daily from the restaurant, while it was closed to dine-in customers, he said.

So, Monday was a treat for Sabine, 86, when the mother and son lunched at the eatery.

“She lives for social interaction with other people and had been going stir crazy,” said Van Linden, of Marietta, adding that they were at ease with the safety measures implemented.

“(Lunch) was enjoyable,” he said. “I think they made everything just right.”

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

While some restaurants in Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb counties opened for on-premise dining Monday, many locally owned restaurants in Gwinnett County kept their dining rooms closed, citing uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and health concerns for employees and customers. Instead, they opted to continue with modified operations such as takeout, delivery and online marketplaces.

Some Atlanta restaurants, including seven concepts from Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, are not yet open for dine-in service, but owners are planning and retraining staff. “Part of training includes a mock service similar to when we open a new restaurant,” said president Niko Karatassos. Role playing will include practicing procedures for setting and clearing tables, how to present a check, sanitization of pens, how close to stand to a table, and speaking with customers. The restaurant group is also giving employees the option to return.

But some operators feel it is still too soon. A group of more than 50 Georgia restaurant owners, most in metro Atlanta, started the hashtag #GAHospitalityTogether opposed to the reopening. The group plans to publish a full-page, paid advertisement Tuesday in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about their position. “We agree that it’s in the best interest of our employees, our guests, our community, and our industry to keep our dining rooms closed at this time,” reads the ad drafted by Ryan Pernice of RO Hospitality, which operates Table & Main and Osteria Mattone in Roswell and Coalition Food and Beverage in Alpharetta.

In a press conference Monday evening, Kemp said he wasn’t surprised that some businesses have chosen not to reopen yet. “I want to thank those folks. If they don’t think it’s the right time, they don’t need to open. If they can weather the storm, they don’t need to open.”

Staff writers Henri Hollis, Amanda C. Coyne, J.D. Capelouto, Kristal Dixon, Adrianne Murchison and Tamar Hallerman contributed to this article.

More than 50 Atlanta restaurant owners unite in decision not to reopen

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