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IN Restaurant Dining Rooms Reopening Monday

Steve Burger

In many ways, one of the biggest tests of the coronavirus recovery gets underway today, when restaurants in Indiana reopen their dining rooms. 

Let’s get this out of the way right now. Diners in Indiana are in for a surprise when they visit their favorite restaurant re-opening Monday. In Evansville, Kipplee’sowner Matt Klees detailed their new serving procedures that comply with state and health department guidelines.

Klees said, “ So, someone will be greeting you when you walk in the door, taking you to a seat, then a server will greet you, explain to you all the precautions we’re taking, will take your order. That is the server who will handle money, will handle pens, will handle any objects that are outside your table. Then we’ll have another one that handles everything that gets brought to your table, from your food, to your drinks. We’re essentially going to have three people taking care of one table, just to make sure nothing gets cross-contaminated, that everything stays clean and separate.”

With procedures worked out, the next big challenge is keeping enough personal protective equipment (PPE) on hand to ensure employees have what is needed. Matt Klees says they’re expensive items that will cut into already thin profit margins.

Diners won’t be required to wear masks, but Kipplee’s will have one additional requirement as you come in the door.

Klees said, “Customers when they walk in, we will be taking their temperatures and anyone that is over 100 (degrees) will be asked to leave. I know there are people who don’t feel comfortable getting their temperatures taken, but it’s just a step we feel is necessary to protect the safety of everyone that walks in the door.”

That may seem a bit drastic, but it’s actually right in line with what most small business owners are considering as they reopen. Clean is the new equivalent of a half price special to entice customers, according to Southwest Indiana Small Business Development Centerregional director Kim Howard in a recent interview recorded over Zoom.

Howard said, “There won’t be a demand if people don’t feel comfortable and safe going into an environment.”

Matt Klees agrees. “It’s a whole new competition. I think us in the restaurant industry are going to be going for- The reputation we want now will be to have the cleanest place.”

Credit Steve Burger / WNIN
Jackie Weil, co-owner of The Pie Pan in Evansville.

But how to get there? On Evansville’s north side, Pie Pan co-owner Jackie Weil described a common conversation last week as restaurant owners tried to nail down the guidelines for re-opening.

“Getting some directives from the health department on what we have to do when we reopen, such as taking temperatures of employees before their shifts, who has to wear masks and gloves and who doesn’t. We are getting menus ready. We are spacing our tables so they’re six feet apart and preparing for only having fifty percent capacity so we have to shut down some of our tables that we’re not going to be using.”

The Pie Pan is waiting until Wednesday to reopen its dining room.

Weil said, “I don’t think we’ll get back to our normal number for a while. I think people are going to still be a little anxious about coming back out. I know some will, especially those with underlying health issues and such…and that’s OK, we understand that.”

Supplying the food for all those restaurant re-openings is the job of companies like CRS One Source. Company president Alan Clark says it won’t take long to get his part of the supply chain back to normal.

Clark said, “Everybody’s slowed down a little bit and caught our breath, and we’re ready to ramp back up, as soon as we’re allowed to, as soon as it’s safe.”

Starting Monday, some people will be anxious to get back into their favorite restaurant, others will hang back a bit until things work themselves out.

With dining rooms closed for that long, it’s safe to say things will be evolving in Indiana restaurants for a few days as servers and customers get used to the new normal.  One thing restaurants are counting on to get customers’ cooperation with the new health guidelines is that no one wants the system to fail and risk another lengthy shutdown because of a spike in COVID-19 cases.

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