Patrons return as restaurants reopen dining rooms

Florida allows 25% capacity inside and outdoor seating with 6-foot distancing

VIDEO: Restaurants across Florida were allowed to reopen their dining rooms if they chose to do so.

Business never stopped at Jacksonville Beach Maple Street Biscuit Company and many other restaurants when dining rooms were closed by Florida’s safe-at-home order. But for the first time in more than a month, customers came inside Monday to enjoy a quick bite.

“Seeing the first guest walk in and not having to stay outside is just such a great feeling. That we’re able to have them back in, sit down and for me to have a chance to go around and talk to them,” assistant manager Parker Turbeville said.

Turbeville said that while reopening the dining room feels good, keeping people safe is a priority. The staff has stepped up on wiping things down, plus many more precautions are in place.

“We are not allowing guests to make their own drinks or grab any of their own utensils,” Tubeville said. “We’re here for the community and the last thing we’d ever want to do is be a danger to the community.”

A few miles over in Neptune Beach, safety is also in full swing at Ellen’s Kitchen, with people inside kept far apart and staff members are wearing masks.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ re-opning order calls for:

  • Restaurants and retail shops to must keep indoor operations at 25% capacity.
  • With outdoor seating, people must be at least 6 feet apart and group size cannot exceed 10

Customers said they can get accustomed to this new normal.

“It’s exciting to see everything is picking back up,” said Quinetta Hawkins, who was having lunch at Barrs Street Eats. " We can come and enjoy our lunch and not rush back to the office."

Restaurant managers agree and happy to do more than takeout.

“A lot of regulars who have been still coming but eating in their cars,” Barrs Street owner Kimberly Serrentino said. “They knew when we were opening and they were here."

Given the capacity rules, workers at Sun Deli in Jacksonville Beach said they were sticking with to-go orders for now, but they look forward to fully reopening soon.

Black Sheep and Orsay, both in Five Points, also haven’t reopened. Black Sheep said it plans to reopen next week and Orsay will open this Friday.

Some restaurants couldn’t sustain being closed for a month. Safe Harbor Seafood had opened its Riverside location in August. Its landlord said their business was strong before the pandemic, but they’ve moved out and the storefront is for lease.

Jacksonville’s mayor said he plans to dine out again now that restaurants are serving.

“I have no problem with going to a restaurant and dining,” Mayor Lenny Curry said. “We won’t tonight because we have a refrigerator of food. My wife asked me this morning what I wanted for dinner tonight. But I’m perfectly comfortable in going out in short order.”

But those who could hold out are being rewarded by their loyal customers.

“It gives us all a very good feeling just to have the community back in our stores. It’s very refreshing to be able to have things to do," Turbeville said.

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.