In late April, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said the "best-case scenario" for restaurants to reopen their dining rooms would be May 12. Early this week, Ducey announced eateries can seat diners by May 11 — this coming Monday — with physical distancing measures.
While some restaurants will continue with the takeout model, or staying dark altogether, others are already modifying their dining rooms, prepping to open next week while abiding by the state's one-page health sheet outlining safeguards for both customers and restaurant staff.
At all five locations of Chompie's Restaurant, Deli, and Bakery, tables are six feet apart, floor markings act as reminders in the line-up area for the bakery and deli counters, plexiglass shields are up near the registers, and faux-brick partitions have been erected between booths.
You won’t see salt and pepper shakers on the table at Ocean 44, Steak 44, and Dominick’s Steakhouse. But you will get a disposable menu.
At Carly’s Bistro in downtown Phoenix, the dining capacity will be halved.
“We’re not going to do just six feet,” says owner Carla Wade Logan. “We’re going to do 10 or 12 feet just to err on the side of caution.”
Carly’s will reopen its dining area on Friday, May 15, because that’s when the stay-at-home order ends. Wade Logan says it makes more sense to have those dates coincide. “We felt like that was more appropriate, and we’re just continuing to … follow the information from the state regarding new cases and what’s happening,” she says.
While she says regulars and members of the younger population may feel comfortable coming in right away, she doesn’t feel like that decision is right for everyone.
“To be perfectly honest, there will be a portion of the population that will be afraid still — and they probably should be," Wade Logan says. "Anyone who’s high-risk probably needs to wait it out a couple more months at least, if not longer. I mean, believe me, we desperately need the business, but not at the expense of anyone’s safety.”
Overall, she says, business is down about 70 percent.
“This is especially hard for restaurants in Arizona because February through April is our high season,” she says. “And the profits from that high season is how restaurants make it through the summer months.”
Takeout, at least, has been sustainable — allowing for the bistro to keep on seven employees. Carly’s opened for takeout the day after the initial shutdown. Unique to the COVID-19 situation, to-go liquor (including Carly’s beloved signature cocktails) has been permitted for pickup with food sales, which Wade Logan says was a huge boost for cashflow.
“We’re really hoping that the governor allows that component to remain intact,” she says.
Carly’s also hit a significant milestone on April 27, which the restaurant was planning on highlighting with a big event to celebrate years of being a stalwart of the Roosevelt Row dining and art scene.
“We’re blessed because we just celebrated our 15th anniversary, so we’re an established business with a loyal following who have been really wonderful throughout all this, and that is huge,” she says. “My heart aches for businesses starting out in the last year or two."
Verdura, the Uptown vegan eatery that opened in March 2019, is one such business. The restaurant started off early with takeout, then temporarily closed on March 21.
Co-owner Julia Chugerman says they’ll be back June 1, but that will obviously come with some modifications. “Our dining room will no longer offer community-style tables and will have about 40 percent less seating options,” Chugerman writes in an email.
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In the end, Wade Logan says there’s a larger reason to follow these guidelines and take extra precautions like additional distance and delayed openings, in addition to current safety.
“The guidelines are important to follow so we don’t end up having to close again,” she says. “If people ignore the rules, and there’s mass outbreaks, we’re going to be back in the same position again.”
Wade Logan stresses that would be nothing short of catastrophic.
“This is already so devastating for our industry,” she says, “but to have to close, reopen, restock, re-staff, and then have to do it all again, that would be a nightmare.”