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Even as Massachusetts allows restaurants to open indoor dining, many Harvard Square restaurant owners said they are hesitant to welcome customers back indoors, instead leaning on outdoor seating and takeout and delivery service.
Massachusetts Governor Charles D. Baker ’79, initiated Step Two of Phase Two of the Commonwealth’s four-phase reopening plan Monday. Under Step Two, restaurants will be able to resume indoor dining while complying with mandatory safety standards, such as distancing tables at least six feet apart, limiting party size to six, and not seating customers at bar areas.
The Commonwealth previously permitted restaurants to open for outdoor table service, under Step One of Phase Two, on June 8.
Despite the Commonwealth now permitting indoor dining, some Harvard Square restaurant owners have said they are not in a hurry to make this transition.
“I'm not in an enormous rush to do that, just because I'm still kind of getting the dining room ready and getting staff for it,” Kari Kuelzer, owner of Grendel’s Den, said. “We really need to focus on training everyone on sort of the new ways of handling things.”
“We have the luxury of nice weather and long days, so while that's the case, I'm going to take my time and get the indoor dining all buttoned up before we open — but that should be within a week or so,” she added.
Paul Lee, manager of Hong Kong Restaurant, also said his restaurant will likely utilize outdoor dining before moving on to indoor dining.
“I am doing pickup/delivery only. I'll probably try to get a patio up front first and do outdoor dining,” Lee said. “Indoor dining will be last.”
Jonathan Mendez, COO and co-founder of Saloniki Greek, said he has adopted different approaches for each of his restaurant locations and, similar to Grendel’s Den, has utilized the outdoor dining option at the Harvard Square location.
“I don't know if it makes sense for Saloniki to offer indoor, because it is a fast-casual,” he said. “Fenway and Harvard are blessed with large patio areas — or the potential for a large patio area.”
“We do have a patio open at both restaurants, and we're in the talks to expand our patio over at Harvard to take up a couple of parking spaces right on Dunster Street,” Mendez added.
Even as restaurants do prepare to reopen their indoor seating, the dining experience will undoubtedly differ from what customers may remember from before the pandemic, as restaurant owners make the necessary changes to meet new safety standards and minimize health risk.
“We've had to reconfigure the dining room with the social distancing,” Lee said. “We've put barriers up in between the ones that we can't socially distance, you know, the booths that are right next to each other, back to back.”
Some restaurants have reopened limited indoor seating areas, but still largely rely on takeout and delivery.
“It’s a small location, but we opened like one small part of the dining area,” Nhon Ma, co-owner of Zinneken’s Waffles, said. “We still focus on to-go orders and deliveries. Some of our customers actually prefer to have their order for to go.”
Adam DiCenso, owner of Pinocchio’s Pizza, said his operation was able to remain open throughout the pandemic, as it primarily focuses on takeout. The easing of restrictions has allowed his restaurant to offer some limited indoor seating, he added.
“We were not able to jump on board the previous week to do outdoor seating, just because of where we are situated right on a side street,” DiCenso said. “When this past Monday came, we were able to install some shields in the restaurant to separate some of the tables and space out everything, and we were able to put in three small tables with total seating for 10 people.”
In addition to social distancing measures and additional cleanings, some restaurants have employed other approaches to minimize the spread of coronavirus.
“Grendel's had always been a ‘seat yourself, just pick a table and go with it’ restaurant,” Kuelzer said. “The biggest change for us is that we have, now, an intake process which is just either you can make a reservation, you can add your name to the waitlist online, or you can walk up and we add your name to what's really like a waitlist.”
Nevertheless, Kuelzer also said her restaurant has endeavored to recreate the experiences her customers remember from before the pandemic through online happy hours and activity classes.
“We've been just sort of doing it online and in Zooms, and it's been really, really, really fun,” she said.
—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.
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