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LIFTING RESTRICTIONS: Local restaurants mixed in opening dining rooms

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Restaurant dining room

Staff at Terranovas in Athens model the masks and gloves they will be wearing while they work with the public. Restaurants throughout Alabama were allowed to open their dining rooms to customers again, but some chose to continue curbside pickup and takeout options.

The food service industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus restrictions this year. After a state health order temporarily banned dining indoors, many sit-down restaurants turned to curbside pickup options to continue selling to customers.

Now that some of the COVID-19 restrictions have been eased by Gov. Kay Ivey, local restaurants have been mixed in whether or not to go ahead and reopen their dining rooms.

Many are still pushing curbside pickup, while places like Mozza in Athens have begun allowing customers inside the restaurant long enough to place an order before returning to their vehicle to await delivery of the food.

Mozza manager Milson Perez said the restaurant’s dining room is not big enough to adequately keep social distancing regulations between customers, so the owner decided to keep the dine-in option off the table until at least June 1.

“My boss decided to do this because you never know what is going to happen with COVID,” Perez said. “We saw a couple of videos in different states where workers had confronted customers asking them, ‘Please use the hand sanitizer and wear your mask,’ and some people were getting mad.”

He said when the restaurant’s dining area does reopen, Mozza staff will ensure social distancing by seating customers at every other table. Hand sanitizer and gloves will be provided to customers, Perez said.

Owner Derek Pirtle at Dub’s Burgers in Athens came to a similar conclusion. His dining room remains closed due to limited seating space, but curbside or walkup ordering and pickup are still available.

“We will reopen our dining room as soon as possible,” Pirtle said. “We are waiting on the state to lift some more restrictions.”

Village Pizza in Athens also kept its indoor dining area closed but is among a handful of locations that now offers dining outside the restaurant. On the other side of the argument, restaurants like Ro’s Grille and Terranova’s in Athens, Mildred’s in Ardmore and Ole Gin House Barbeque in Elkmont have opened their dining rooms to allow customers to eat inside the establishment.

Mildred’s opened its dining room May 12. According to the business’s social media, given the buffet-style nature of the restaurant, the decision was made to have employees serve patrons cafeteria-style.

“Patrons of the restaurant will not be allowed to touch buffet serving utensils,” said Mildred’s in a post.

Ro’s Grille reopened its dining room Tuesday.

“We will have limited seating, so please be patient with us while we navigate these new procedures,” said Ro’s in a social media post.

Ro’s also offers curbside and to-go options.

Terranova’s opened up its dining room May 14. Manager Frances Sanderson said the business will have servers wear masks and gloves.

“We thought black masks look more professional, and they have filters,” she said.

Sanderson said business was slow when the dining room first opened, but on Friday, there was a wait to get in the door.

“We are so small inside, it is hard to keep 6-foot distance,” she said. “We can use seven tables max, which is less than 50% capacity for us.”

Terranova’s, much like many of the restaurants mentioned, offers food delivery through GrubSouth. Sanderson said the number of orders that Terranova’s sends out with GrubSouth has tripled since the COVID-19 restrictions were put in place.

“We have been blessed,” she said. “Our curbside service has been amazing. Athens has really shown up.”

Ole Gin House Barbecue re-opened its dining room May 11. In a social media post, the restaurant announced it will limit group sizes to a maximum of eight people and will not have a salad bar available until further notice. Certain tables will be off-limits to customers to promote social distancing.

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