Diners return for indoor seating at Montgomery County restaurants

Diners return for indoor seating at Montgomery County restaurants

Restaurants readjust over the weekend to expansion of service, with limitations

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Customers dine at Olazzo in Bethesda Friday evening. Restaurants in Montgomery County were allowed to start seating customers indoors at 50% capacity this weekend.

Photo by Dan Schere

Restaurants in Montgomery County began welcoming customers back into their dining rooms at 5 p.m. on Friday for indoor meal service for the first time since mid-March, when the COVID-19 health crisis was starting.

Under the county’s phase 2 reopening plan, restaurants were allowed to seat customers at 50% indoor capacity, provided that social distancing and health guidelines were followed.

The phase 2 order states that restaurants, bars and other “similar establishments that sell food or beverages for consumption on-premises,” as well as “social and fraternal clubs,” can serve food indoors at 50% capacity if they follow these guidelines:

  • Establishments can’t serve meals in buffet formats
  • They must post signage reminding customers that they must wear face masks at all times when not seated
  • Customers must maintain at least six feet of distancing when waiting to be seated or seated at a bar

Anyone who doesn’t comply with the order can be refused service or subject to criminal penalties, the order states.

At Olazzo in Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle, the scene inside was quiet at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, with a few people seated in booths and one at the bar.

The pickup option seemed to be a more popular option on Friday, with to-go bags lining the bar and a steady stream of customers who came to pick up their dinner.

Restaurant Manager Richard Fancey said he thought rain earlier in the day might have scared some people away.

Allowing people to sit inside for the first time in more than three months, he said, was both “exciting” and “a little nerve-wracking.”

“We’re legally allowed 50%, but with spacing limitations, less than 50% is what we’ll actually be able to serve,” he said.

Fancey said his staff would be rearranging the dining room this week to better accommodate customers. He said the restaurant is still dealing with other challenges during the health crisis.

“Right now, I’m trying to reach out to people to see who wants to come back to work. I’ve got a lot of people furloughed. There’s just a lot of weird challenges,” he said. “It’s a whole new business. Everything’s way different.”

Outdoor dining also seemed to be less popular on Friday, with many tables and chairs in Bethesda’s “Streetery” on Norfolk Avenue empty.

But outside Gringos & Mariachis on Cordell Avenue, the scene was busier, with customers congregating outside, waiting to be seated.

“We only have limited seating inside,” a restaurant staff member told a group of young people, and informed them they might have to wait for a table.

Restaurateur Robert Wiedmaier, who owns Wildwood Kitchen in Bethesda and Lock 72 in Potomac, wrote in an email Monday morning that those restaurants opened for indoor dining this weekend and business was “strong.”

“And it helped numbers that it was also Father’s Day,” he wrote.

Wiedmaier wrote that his other Montgomery County restaurant, Mussel Bar and Grille in Bethesda, will open for indoor dining on Tuesday.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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