Restaurants reopen to a rush of relief, and remaining mixed feelings

The Arizona Restaurant Association estimated that about one-half of the state’s restaurants decided to resume dine-in service on Monday

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No longer must this be the scene at O.H.S.O in Arcadia. Arizona restaurants have reopened (cautiously) for dine-in service.

Early Monday evening was just as busy as a weekend happy hour at the O.H.S.O. Eatery and nano-Brewery, thanks to a reopening rush. O.H.S.O. resumed sit-down dining in its restaurants at noon Monday, one of many local restaurants that chose to take the state up on its offer to permit dine-in service again as of yesterday.

“Everyone knows we’re open again, and they want to get out of the house, so they’re making Monday look like a Friday,” said Rene Galan, manager of the Arcadia location. “Happy Hour was amazing, just drinks and food going out the window nonstop. It’s nice to get back into the action.”

At 6:30 p.m., there was a wait time of about 30 minutes for inside seating and more an hour for outside seating. The restaurant has not been serving diners since Governor Doug Ducey ordered restaurants and bars shuttered on March 19.

The Arizona Restaurant Association estimated that about one-half of the state’s 10,000+ restaurants decided to resume dine-in service on Monday. Others kept the status quo, offering takeout, curbside pickup and delivery.

Of those that relaunched dine-in service, a number, particularly those with outdoor patios, experienced a reopening rush.

The reopening drew mixed emotions from Arizona residents. In recent discussions with Raising Arizona Kids magazine, local families were sharply divided about their degree of comfort with the reopening. More than 3,500 people in the local family community engaged in the conversation on our social media.

Some families were thrilled

Ashley King of Phoenix and her family were among those who jumped at the chance to dine at O.H.S.O. last night. “We’re 110% ready to support local businesses,” she said. “And my kids are stoked for a night out for the first time in a long time.”

Marcia Kat felt the reopening was overdue for those who are healthy: “This house arrest has gone on long enough. We are only prolonging the inevitable. Eventually everyone will be exposed anyway. Protect the immune-compromised and medically fragile.”

Others are cautious

Others warned of the dangers of reopening too soon. Arizona’s stay-at-home order remains in place until Friday, May 15.

Karen Marion of Tempe said she will not be going out to eat. “I’m especially saddened to see how many people feel it’s OK to sacrifice the health and safety of their children to make a point when science clearly says it’s not time,” she said.

Some families are reserving judgment. “I’m going to wait a few weeks and see if the [COVID-19] numbers go up again. I’m not convinced that [reopening restaurants] is a good idea, but I’m not 100% sure it’s not, either,” said Carrie Kitchell of Mesa.

Many of those who said they won’t embrace dine-in right away emphasized that they will keep supporting local restaurants through takeout or delivery orders.

Some wonder, is it safe?

Others said they are going nowhere near a restaurant any time soon. Reasons they cited:

Concerns about the progression of the disease. “We are staying put for a while,” said Monica Heath, a mother of two in Mesa. “I suspect a second wave [of COVID-19] happening. I think people have a false sense of security and will not take precautions. I’m not in a hurry to risk myself.”

Concerns about restaurants’ abilities to take precautions. “It is definitely a ‘heck, no’ for our family. I worked in the restaurant industry before COVID hit, and I know that most places will have a hard time maintaining sanitation, distancing or even protecting the staff at a level that would be safe for mass quantities,” said Sara Cody of Peoria.

Other diners’ lack of precaution. “I don’t trust people,” said Edny Gonzalez, a mother of three in Phoenix. “Some are going out sick and not covering themselves. I don’t think it’s the restaurants’ fault. They could do all they can but if people are not doing their part, it doesn’t help.”

How restaurants have responded

The Arizona Restaurant Association is working to reassure diners that it’s safe to resume dine-in service.

“We are taking every precaution possible when it comes to cleanliness and hygiene,” said Steve Chucri, president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association (ARA). “When they [Arizonans] feel comfortable returning to dining rooms, we will be there to welcome them…That being said, continue to use take-out if that is your preferred way to support restaurants.”

For its part, the ARA last week issued reopening guidelines entitled “Welcome Back to the Table” to help establishments prepare for reopening and operating to standards recommended by the state and the CDC. Among the recommendations:

  • physical distancing of at least six feet between tables
  • allowing groups of no larger than 10 people
  • enforcing strict sanitizing guidelines
  • suggesting that staff wear masks
  • utilizing technology for everything from reducing waiting lines to payment methods

Evidence of these guidelines showed up in modified dining experiences at fully reopened restaurants on Monday and Tuesday. They included staff outfitted with masks (and even gloves), disposable menus, sides of hand sanitizer with the check, and empty tables for spacing, among other precautions. Many restaurants were seating parties at about half capacity, occupying only every other table to maintain the six-foot recommended physical distance separation.

Whatever the restrictions or potential consequences, restaurant goers on Monday enjoyed some freedom that they haven’t had in several months. Chelsea Martin, a Phoenix mother of seven, was also at O.H.S.O. last night. “It was wonderful. Felt like normal life. Finally,” she said.

Phoenix New Times’ is compiling a running list of restaurants that have reopened.