Montgomery County restaurants say they are ready to seat customers inside

Montgomery County restaurants say they are ready to seat customers inside

Phase 2 begins at 5 p.m. Friday

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Chef Tony's in Bethesda, like many restaurants in Montgomery County, will open up for indoor seating at 5 p.m. on Friday under phase 2 of the county's reopening plan

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Montgomery County restaurants have been preparing to start serving customers indoors for dinner service at limited capacity on Friday as the county moves into its second reopening phase.

County Executive Marc Elrich announced this week that the county would move into phase 2 of its reopening plan at 5 p.m. on Friday, which allows restaurants to serve customers at up to 50% capacity inside. Under phase 2, gyms, nail salons, indoor and outdoor pools, and parks and playgrounds can also open with restrictions.

Since the county began its phase 1 reopening on June 1, restaurants have been able to serve customers outdoors, also with restrictions.

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 the following 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.

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Bethesda will reopen for the first time on Friday since it closed entirely on March 20, General Manager Sarah Jorandby said in an interview Thursday.

Restaurants have been allowed to serve carryout and delivery during the COVID-19 health crisis, even before the reopening phases began.

“We have a lot of measures in place to make sure we’re achieving a once-per-hour sanitation regimen,” she said. “We’ve been spending our time making sure everything’s properly sanitized and disinfected.”

Jorandby said customers may take their masks off while eating and drinking, but must wear them at all other times.

Rock Bottom can seat 175 people at 50% capacity, Jorandby said. Because the restaurant has a second floor and a banquet room, it has more space than some restaurants, she said.

“We do have quite a bit of space and are really excited to open,” she said.

Tony Marciante, who owns Chef Tony’s on St. Elmo Avenue in Bethesda, said his restaurant opened back up a month ago for carryout service, following a brief closure.

His restaurant will start serving customers indoors on Friday. At 50% capacity, his dining room can seat around 40 people, he said.

Marciante said since his restaurant started seating customers outdoors at the beginning of the month, Vuk, a pizzeria with pinball machines next door, has allowed his restaurant to use Vuk’s patio.

“We’ve had opportunities to seat extra people, which has helped a lot, because our patio’s pretty small,” he said.

Marciante said Chef Tony’s will be taking reservations and walk-ins. His restaurant workers are all using masks, and there will be sanitizer stations throughout the restaurant, he said.

Additionally, Marciante said customers can view menus on their phone by scanning a QR, or quick response, barcode.

“We’re still in a very compromised scenario,” he said of the health crisis.

Silver New American Brasserie in Bethesda Row will also open at 50% capacity on Friday, Manager Christian Cortes said. He said the restaurant will accept reservations and walk-ins. The dining area, with reduced capacity, can seat about 50 to 80 people, he said.

“Everyone must wear masks whenever they come in our restaurant. They can remove the mask when they’re seating to enjoy their food,” Cortes said.

All restaurants, under the Maryland Department of Health’s phase 2 guidelines, must maintain six feet of separation between tables, which creates practical challenges, said Davis Green, the general manager of The Dish & Dram in Kensington and The Daily Dish in Silver Spring.

Green said keeping the necessary separation between tables is a “delicate balancing act” in which he must seat as many people as possible while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

“We’re not really incentivized to put out tables as two-tops, because every single two-top would mean an additional six feet,” he said.

Green said he thinks the six-foot separation rule is more of a limiting factor than the 50% capacity rule.

“My gut feeling is when we set up a dining room with all the tables six feet apart, that the number of [customers] will be less than the 50% capacity number,” he said.

Green said so far, the two restaurants haven’t been using reservations, and customers have been considerate about not lingering too long. He said they might consider limiting customers to an hour during lunch and an hour and a half during dinner.

“We’ll reconsider everything  as we understand what it means to be a 50% capacity restaurant,” he said.

Green said the restaurants will have masks available on-site for purchase in case people forget to wear them inside.

Asked whether he thought customers would feel comfortable eating inside, Green said he thinks it “runs the gamut.”

“There’s definitely a population of people that I think will be more reserved or cautious. But there’s definitely people that we’ve spoken to that have been looking forward to getting out and being social and participating,” he said.

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

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