The way we dine has changed since establishments shut down, transitioned to takeout, then gradually reopened over the past few months.
Glen Park Tavern, at 5507 Main Street, has been around since 1887. Patrons dine in the original brick building, which sports hand-hewn beams, original mahogany bar, and hardwood floors. It boasts a Cheers-like ambiance and is a great place to meet friends or have a family meal.
Co-owner Ellie Grenauer has now added a makeshift patio in the back parking lot to accommodate diners not ready to eat indoors. "It’s not pretty patio dining, though I tried to make it a bit more attractive," says Grenauer, who added plants and put up umbrellas and pop-up tents. "It’s "definitely weather dependent."
Business has been slow, but things are gradually getting better. The tavern was hoping for "a big rush back," but Grenauer believes that people are still scared. Takeout is available, but delivery stopped when inside dining was opened.
Grenauer was amazed at the rate ribs became a favorite takeout option. Not always a best seller in-house, ribs were selling out through takeout: "We were like, ‘What is it with these ribs?’"
The Glen Park Tavern, serves a "real mix—a lot of different people," Grenauer notes, "even with the dining room at fifty percent capacity. The restaurant is seating only nine tables and has put plastic between the booths so they can still be used. Reservations can also be made at the bar.
Customers are reminded that they need to wear masks when they enter or move around. While response has been good, Grenauer says, "You can see by the way people are dining that they don’t feel safe yet."
Stories about establishments breaking the rules can hurt. "We hear about bars and restaurants that aren’t doing it right. What about all of us who are doing it right?" Grenauer laments. "There are a bunch of us trying to do the right thing and stay within the guidelines."
Cugino’s Italian Restaurant, at 6011 Main Street, is a sophisticated establishment that serves wine and cocktails to complement refined pastas and entrees. Owner Frank Cirikovic describes the fare as "contemporary Northern Italian cuisine" served at lunch and dinner in an "elegant dining atmosphere."
For patio lovers, Cugino’s provides a charming outdoor setting. Social distancing means that only four or five tables can be used. Weekends are busy, unless the weather is uncooperative. Indoor diners will find tables moved six feet apart. As a result, Cirikovic says, "I can use maybe nine tables inside."
While Cirikovic offers takeout, he encourages diners to call ahead so dinners can be properly prepared. He said he had a "short menu" for three months, but now offers a full menu. Takeout orders have included what Cirikovic refers to as "simple things—basic stuff," like chicken parmigiana and Milanese, and lobster ravioli.
The clientele at Cugino’s is an older demographic. Although prices are in line with other upscale restaurants, Cirikovic says, "Young people won’t spend that much for dinner. They will go to a pizza place."
Cirkovic hopes the new dining scene will normalize eventually, noting, "November, December—we will see what happens. It will take a little while for business to be as it used to be. It’s very tough for employees and everybody. It is the same thing for everybody, not just for me."
Grenauer and Cirikovic are both optimistic about the future of their establishments, although they agree that people are still hesitant about dining out. "My opinion is, masks and social distancing will be in the picture until there is a vaccine," says Grenauer. "We will have to get creative and do whatever we can to stay alive. This is our new reality. What we will see is restaurants going out of business. It’s hard to do fifty percent capacity. You’re not making any money at fifty percent capacity."
Both also express gratitude for their customers. Says Cirikovic, "I keep the place open for regular guests to eat. I do communicate with regular guests. People try to support me. I appreciate that."
"The message of supporting local is still really important, and I want people to know we are doing everything in our power to make it safe to come out and dine. That’s an important issue," says Grenauer. "You have to love this business to be in it. It’s all we know. It’s what we have always done."