Delaware Restaurants Prepare for Phase One Dining

Sonora at The David Finney Inn in New Castle is finding ways to offer a safe dining space for customers in phase one of reopening./Courtesy of Melissa Ferraro

As dining rooms are allowed to open with specific regulations, some restaurants prepare to welcome customers back in while others continue to push takeout.

Although Carl Georigi’s restaurants were closed for 10 weeks, there was no time to sit idle and stop working.

The Platinum Dining Group president and CEO spent the shutdown helping feed healthcare workers, and working with the Delaware Restaurant Association and governor’s office to tailor restaurant guidelines. Now, he turns back to his own six eateries to prepare for phase one of Delaware’s reopening.

What are the dine in restrictions for phase one?

Restaurants can welcome customers back into their dining rooms on June 1 with certain restrictions. Eateries are not allowed to exceed 30 percent of the fire code occupancy. A reservation is required for all diners, and they can only dine at the same table as members of their household.

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Carl Georigi of Platinum Dining Group./Courtesy of Carl Georigi

Guests must wear face coverings except when eating or drinking. Tables must be spaced so that customers are at least six feet from one another.

Customers should receive disposable menus and single-use condiments or condiments in reusable containers that are cleaned between each party, according to the phase one reopening guidance document.

How do restaurant owners feel about the restrictions?

While opening doors back up is a positive sign, restauranteurs are still anxious about how long they can survive on limited occupancy, and if the new restrictions can be implemented smoothly. Some have decided to skip phase one altogether and will aim at reopening their dining room in phase two.

Georigi says it’s important for customers to begin supporting their favorite spots now. Normally, serving at 30 percent occupancy for an extended period of time would lead to permanent closure.

“It’s going to be a long road back if you make it back,” he stresses.

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Platinum Dining Group consists of six eateries throughout New Castle County: Eclipse Bistro, Redfire Grill & Steakhouse, Capers & Lemons, Taverna Newark, Taverna Wilmington and El Camino Mexican Kitchen. All locations will reopen for dinner on June 1 and then lunch and dinner starting June 2.

Georigi brought back all of his managers and cooks in the preparation of reopening. “Leadership is more important than ever,” he says. But with the limited occupancy, he’s only able to bring back about 250 of his 407 hourly employees. He hopes if they can successfully enter phase two, all employees can return.

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How have restaurants prepared for reopening?

Carrie Leishman, president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association, says the organization has been working with restaurant owners to help them through the challenges of phase one. For some, it’s installing and using a reservation system they’ve never needed before. For others, it’s about reconfiguring the space to meet social distancing requirements.

While opening dining rooms is a step forward, Leishman wishes owners could have more capacity. “Of course, they thought it was too limiting,” she says. Which is why she fought to have the added benefit of applying for additional outdoor seating with proper social distancing added to phase one.

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Melissa Ferraro, owner and executive chef of Sonora at The David Finney Inn in New Castle, found the restaurant’s patio to be a huge help with offering space to customers. Along with the outside space, Sonora’s dining space is split into three different rooms.

Sonora at The David Finney Inn will soon reopen its doors for dine in./Courtesy of Melissa Ferraro

Ferraro says she took tables out to meet the capacity and social distancing requirements. She’s also dedicated one dining room as a private space to give one family at a time more separation from other diners, if they’d like.

How will customers respond?

As for how customers will respond, Ferraro is already seeing a 50/50 split between people who are eager to get back and others who are nervous to return. “Most people are taking this seriously,” she says. However, if a customer tries to not comply with the regulations, Ferraro is stern about making sure they understand the rules.

Greg Vogeley, owner of Drip Café, decided not to reopen his cafes in Hockessin and Newark for dine in during phase one because reworking the space for social distancing wouldn’t make for a comfortable experience.

According to his staff, the café’s customers have had mixed responses to the takeout only period. While some were anxious to be able to dine in again, he says others were feeling uneasy that phase one was coming so soon. So, Vogeley decided that the customers who wanted to dine in could wait a little longer in order to help everyone feel more at ease.

“I’d rather not lose any business,” he says.

Vogeley has used the restricted time to offer his customers more ways to enjoy his product by launching the Drip Roasting Company, so people could make Drip coffee at home. “I’m trying to really look forward,” he says.

Georigi says Platinum Dining Group is ready to go with phase one’s restrictions. As to how customers will respond, that will be determined for sure when the doors open up on June 1.

“It’s going to be interesting to see,” he says.

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