Raleigh, N.C. — Many North Carolina restaurants welcomed diners back over the weekend as coronavirus-related restrictions that had limited them to drive-thru, takeout or delivery service for almost two months were eased.
But for some restaurant owners, reopening at 50 percent capacity doesn’t yet make sense from a safety or an economic perspective.
“We look at this as a marathon. It’s not a sprint,” said Greg Hatem, the founder of Empire Eats, which operates nine Triangle restaurants, including The Raleigh Times and The Pit.
Hatem said takeout and delivery orders are thriving at his restaurants, and he wants to protect that business while carefully preparing to seat diners again.
“A year ago, if you went to a restaurant where they were wearing masks, would you go in? I wouldn’t. Now, I’m very appreciative that they’re doing that, so it’s a whole other set of training,” he said.
Trophy Brewing co-owner Chris Powers said his customers backed a similar cautious approach in a recent newsletter poll. So far, he said, bringing back seated diners doesn’t add up.
“At 50 percent occupancy, the numbers just don’t make sense. But what we’re thinking about more so is the capacity for safety,” Powers said. “Our goal is to provide the safest environment for both our staff and our guests, and right now, we don’t feel comfortable welcoming people into the dining rooms.”
Some wait staff said they worry about safety and the impact of reduced capacity on their bottom line.
“Aside from the exposure to the virus as a server, we depend on crowds in restaurants in order to make tips to supplement our base pay of $2.13 an hour,” said one server, who asked not to be named.
Hatem plans to gradually reopen seated dining at his restaurants. beginning with The Pit next week. He said he will evaluate how that goes before expanding it to his other restaurants.