SC restaurants reopen outdoor dining for the first time in almost two months
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Restaurants throughout South Carolina reopened outdoor dining for the first time in nearly two months Monday, but with some new safety procedures. Under the governor’s order, each table must be eight feet apart, and a maximum of eight customers are allowed at one table. Restaurant staff is also required to wipe down all tables and chairs before and after each customer.
Another requirement is that restaurants must eliminate any gatherings in or near the building when people are waiting for outdoor seating.
At Market on Main in downtown Columbia, the staff has placed tape eight feet apart at the front door for people to stand as they wait for a table. Staff here also use a tape measurer to make sure each table is at least eight feet apart. “We think the risk of transmission is relatively low from our perspective, just with how clean we are getting everything and with everybody wearing a mask. It’s likely not to have any transmission, at least from any of us,” owner Josh Willoughby said.
Willoughby opened Market on Main in December and was building his business when COVID-19 hit our state. “It’s obviously challenging anytime you open a new business. It’s tough just to begin with without having a pandemic-like situation, but now it’s become even tougher. Obviously, the hospitality industry has been grossly impacted more so than a lot of other industries as well. We were kind of the first to go and the last to recover if you will," Willoughby explained. He says the process of reopening outdoor dining was extensive but worth it. “We did put in a great deal of work to make this day possible for everybody, and we hope everyone will enjoy it,” said Willoughby.
M Kitchen in Columbia is also back open for outdoor dining. “We’re so excited. We feel like it’s the beginning of a revival," said owner Michelle Weng. Her restaurant is still using disposable containers to limit the number of items touched by each customer, and the staff is wearing masks and gloves. While M Kitchen only has three outdoor tables, they were all taken at lunchtime Monday. Reopening outdoor dining has allowed Weng to bring back 80% of her kitchen staff and 30% of her wait staff.
“All the restaurant owners and industry workers are eager to go back to work, and we’re doing everything we can to educate our employees to make all the necessary preparations, procedures in place to ensure people’s safety and their well-being," said Weng.
Customers seemed to take notice of the extra safety precautions and were eager to get back to their favorite restaurants. Both restaurants were busy for outdoor dining on their first day open. “I like that they used the takeout rather than serving plates. That seemed more safe," said Aaron West, who dined at Market on Main Monday afternoon. “We have plastic cups, and they haven’t touched us. They’ve respected us. I think it’s important to wear masks, so it’s enjoyable,” he explained.
Now that patios and other outdoor dining areas are open, the conversation is focused on when the governor could allow dining rooms to reopen. Chair of the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, Bobby Williams says they are eyeing May 11th as a possible date to reopen indoor dine-in services, but he says that will rely on the number of cases, the food supply chain and the public’s reaction to outdoor dining.
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