When Gov. John Bel Edwards ushered Louisiana into phase one of businesses re-opening after coronavirus-related closures, restaurants were given the green light to open up dining rooms under strict guidelines – most notably capping the number of patrons to 25% of the establishment’s capacity.
Even with the dining room open, Randy Muller, owner of Luling’s Southern Latte Café, said most of his shop’s patrons are still using curbside pick-up and online ordering.
“Our take-out business been well,” he said. “Our dine-in business been a little slower than we would like.”
Jacqueline Diaz Davis, owner of Mariano’s Italian Eatery Luling, said her dine-in service has also been slow.
“Our dining room re-opened May 15, but to be honest it hasn’t really taken off,” she said. “I posted on Facebook that we re-opened, but I’m not sure if people know we’ve re-opened or if they’re nervous about dining in or maybe because of only being able to have 25 percent capacity they think we’re going to be full and don’t want to have to wait outside or sit in the car.”
Muller and Davis said tables in their establishment have been spaced out for safely, and each business has outdoor seating as well.
Herbert DeLeon, manager at Coffee & Norco, said the 25% occupancy rule has reduced the number of tables at the establishment from 11 to 5.
“All the customers have followed all our guidelines and have been a big help,” he said. “Take-out business has been very steady, and we are very grateful … the community has supported us a great deal during this time.”
Perry DiCarlo, manager of the Fatty Shack in Luling, said his restaurant has very few customers asking for seating.
“We do have four tables set up,” he said, “but take-out is overall slow and with inconsistent sales, but we are glad to be open and serve the community.”
DiCarlo said the restaurant has changed its hours of operation, and is now open in the evenings.
“Hours will be reviewed weekly as we are trying to maximize our staff and costs,” he said.
While some local restaurants have tackled the challenge of re-opening their dining rooms at 25% capacity, others have decided – at least for now – to stick with take-out only service.
“Since the rules have changed, we have decided not to change the way we have been operating,” Katie Hymel, chef and owner of Honeydoux Cafe and Bakery in Destrehan, said. “We are still operating as a to-go only restaurant with shortened hours … we have such a small dining room that the 25% capacity was nearly impossible to do with staying in the six feet apart social distancing guidelines.”
Hymel said her shop has continued to stay busy with to-go orders and specialty pastry orders, but business is still slower than it was pre-pandemic.
“We are still only using one third of our staff because we just don’t have the business right now to support our full staff,” she said. “It has been difficult, but we are staying positive and taking it day by day … our hope is to open up our dining room during phase 2.”
April Ball, manager at Taste of Tokyo, said when the state opened phase 1 the restaurant’s team made the decision to keep the dining room closed.
“Our restaurant is small, our customer volume is high and with the restrictions we would only be able to have three to four tables at any given time,” she said. “We just decided that not only because of the restrictions, but also for safety reasons, we are just going to continue with take-out orders until we can reopen with a higher customer capacity.”
Ball said the team will continue to look at all of the restrictions set in place now and consider how they will reopen the dining room to meet the rules set in place, keep everyone safe and still give customers the experience they’re used to.
“I can’t say enough about our customers,” she said. “They’ve been great though all of this.”