Some restaurants open dining rooms, patios Friday, while others stick with to-go only

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Friday marked another step by Governor Greg Abbott to reopen Texas. After being shut down for more than a month, retailers, restaurants, libraries, golf courses and movie theaters have been given the green light to allow customers back in the door.

The day to reopen comes a day after the state reported the highest death toll in one single day with more than 50 deaths.

If restaurant owners chose to reopen their dining rooms Friday, they had to follow the state’s safety guidelines. Things like masks requirements for staff and patrons, disposable cutlery, to-go cups, single-use menus and single-use condiments are just some of the changes being made at restaurants.

KXAN checked in with Z’Tejas and Poke Austin. Management there said they’ll practice social distancing and keep patrons separated. They also plan to check employees’ temperatures at the door.

At Z’Tejas, temperature checks will also apply to customers, and they plan to implement a rotating table system. That means they will not seat a party at the same table where others just dined.

Another big aspect for many restaurants is patios. Several restaurant owners are advertising their outdoor space. Z’Tejas has four patio areas at its 6th Street location, and Poke Austin’s patio wraps around the building. Some restaurant owners have announced they will only use the patio areas.

“That’s where your space is,” Trent Schneiter, the owner of Poke Austin said. “That’s where I think people will feel the safest, so let’s take advantage of that, and even better it’s the good weather it’s not a 100 degrees outside, it’s a cool 90 degrees.”

Z’Tejas Chief Operating Officer Robby Nethercut agreed and said, “I think (patrons) do feel more comfortable just being outdoors and feeling free and I think for sure, my personal preference would be to want to be able to sit outdoors. I think there is a little bit of safety there and it makes people feel more comfortable.”

Regulars welcomed back at local favorites

“Actually I was coming in to get a taco to go. I always come here,” said Gloria Chapa. “Today I didn’t know I could eat here. I’m glad came here.”

Chapa said she’s been coming to Juan in a Million twice a week for decades. “I was like 15-years-old, and now I’m 60. My nephews, my nieces, my mom, everybody came here. It’s a family tradition.”

She said during the Stay Home Order, she would see Juan in a Million completely empty.

“Empty and sad and depressing. It’s sad what happened. It’s real sad. But everything’s going to get better,” she told KXAN.

Owner Juan Meza said he moved the tables so they’re all more than six feet apart. He said he’s glad he can re-open the dining room.

“We had to lay off a lot of our employees. Not we’re starting to bring them back,” Meza said. “Hopefully when things start picking back up again, hopefully we’ll have our whole staff back.”

Some are keeping their dining rooms closed

On the other hand, however, some restaurant owners chose to keep their dining rooms closed.

Bangers Sausage House and Beer Garden Owner Ben Siegel said, “You’ve a very real threat to human life on the one hand. And then you have very real threat to livelihoods on the other hand.”

Bangers has been selling groceries and having people pick up their orders curbside.

“If you look at the what the president and at the federal level, what their guidelines were for states reopening, which seemed rational logical, I don’t think we’ve actually met any of those guidelines,” Siegel said. “The only difference between right now and a month and a half ago when we shut down is there’s more people with COVID-19 right now. That’s really the only difference.”

Siegel said he had to think about, “What is the cost of not only starting back up but then shutting it down but then starting it back up again?”

He also explained, reopening the dining room isn’t as simple as turning on a light switch. You have to think about staffing and inventory.

The Brewtorium owners also said, you need more than four days to go from a to-go only model to having dining rooms open at 25 percent capacity.

“We just felt like it wasn’t time yet with the number of COVID cases continuing to increase in Travis County,” said Co-Owner Whitney Roberts. “We just felt like it wasn’t the safe time to do it.”

Chris Rauschuber said, “Even if we felt that the overall climate was suitable, the measures we had to put in place, we need more time.”

Roberts added, “Adding all the additional safety measures, moving our tables around, trying to police that, trying police the number of people coming in, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense at this point. And frankly I don’t think people would coming in at this point.”

Like Siegel, Rauschuber also questioned the costs of reopening now and the potential of having to shut down again if there were to be a second surge in cases.

“It’d be very disruptive to our staff if we were to bring them off of furlough, off of unemployment and then have to put them back on furlough, we’re not really sure how that would work,” he said.

The restaurant owners said they will reopen in the future, but for now, they’d rather play it safe.

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