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What Will Ohio Restaurants Look Like When Dining Rooms Reopen?

Restaurants on normally busy West 25th Street in Cleveland on a weeknight in early May 2020. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]
photo of W. 25th Street in Cleveland

Once Ohio reopens restaurants for dine-in service, Brandon Chrostowski, founder of Edwins Restaurant in Shaker Square, says he’ll be running two restaurants where there used to be one.

“One restaurant will be dine-in and that will take up 60 percent of the restaurant with table space,” Chrostowski said. “And the other 30 to 40 percent of the restaurant will be where our pickup area is going to be.”

Restaurants, which were among the first businesses closed by the state on March 15 in response to the coronavirus, are still waiting to hear when they can reopen

Chrostowski’s gourmet French restaurant has changed tack since the pandemic started. They’ve put in a grill outside and offer a daily family-sized takeout deal.

Edwins Restaurant in Shaker Square on a recent weeknight, with a portable grill set up out front. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]

Chrostowski was actually able to increase revenue by about 50 percent in the month of April compared to last year, he said, but thinks it will still take some time, even after dine-in returns, before bars and restaurants are anywhere close to full again.

“And quite frankly, I think the guest is not going to come out like people think they are right away and consistently enough,” he said. “I still think it’s going to take some time for this to cool off.”

Ohio has begun lifting the governor’s stay-at-home order. Restrictions on hospital visits, office work and manufacturing operations have already been relaxed; retail stores reopen next week.

Gov. Mike DeWine is facing growing pressure to fully lift the stay-at-home order. Legislators are seeking to curtail the authority of his director of health, Dr, Amy Acton. A House committee on restarting the state’s economy began virtual meetings in early April.

Cleveland restaurateur Tony George addressed those legislators on April 21.

“Trust your business owners. Trust your citizens,” George said. “If we do not have an immediate reopening of the economy, with important health restrictions, we will not recover.”

Some of that pressure may be having an effect. During his daily coronavirus press briefing on May 4, DeWine finally directly addressed reopening restaurants, saying a working group will have a set of guidelines by Thursday and an opening date will be announced then.

“Within the next several days, we will be rolling out that protocol and at the same time we will be able to announce the date when restaurants can start back in,” DeWine said. “So I know people are anxious about that.”

The working group’s deliberations are private. Its members are mostly restaurant managers from across the state. Only five of the 36 members come from health departments. It’s not clear what measures they’re considering, but DeWine said Ohio will continue moving ahead carefully.

The governor’s office has had recommendations from the state’s restaurant association since late April. The group requested a May 15 opening date.

“So we're ready,” said John Barker, CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association.

The association’s recommendations include spacing tables 6 feet apart, the voluntary use of face masks by staff and customers, more frequent cleaning and making hand sanitizers widely available.

“The restaurants have really had a lot of guidance from us and others and they're prepared,” Barker said. “That's what people do when you have a business and you understand what the rules are and you begin to get ready.”

In late April, Ohio Restaurant Association counted 300,000 job losses in the restaurant industry and the closure of 50 percent of the state’s restaurants.

After Ohio restaurants open, the group’s next goal will be finding ways to overcome social distancing’s effect on revenues, Barker said. That might include lobbying cities to expand areas available for outdoor seating.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.