We’re two months into the stay-at-home orders mandated by the state of California due to the coronavirus, and people are getting antsy. Finally, some stay-at-home orders are slowly being lifted or modified. Most beaches have reopened (in one form or another), retail stores can now offer curbside delivery, and recreational businesses including many water-sports rentals (electric boats, kayaks, SUPs) are back in business.
One thing most of us are anxiously awaiting is the reopening of restaurants, which for the past eight weeks have been forced to get by with offering take-out menus.
Last week, California issued official guidance for the eventual reopening of dine-in restaurants, brewpubs, craft distilleries, breweries, bars, pubs, and wineries. These re-openings have not yet been permitted in Orange County, but at least the guidelines have been determined, and not surprisingly, they are extensive.
Among the guidelines: “Remove tables and chairs from dining areas so that six feet of physical distance can be maintained for customers and employees. If tables, chairs, booths, etc., cannot be moved, use visual cues to show that they are not available for use or install Plexiglas or other types of impermeable physical barriers to minimize exposure between customers.”
Winery Prepares for Diners
“Impermeable physical barriers.” That’s exactly with The Winery Restaurant on Coast Highway did last week—they installed moveable clear panels at their upper and lower bars and lounge areas, and installed permanent clear panels at every booth. Even the tables on the upstairs patio that overlooks Newport harbor has clear panels between tables. The hostess stand also sports a new clear panel.
The panels are made of medical grade Lexan, with Teflon on the bottom so they slide easily. They were created by Super Color Digital, are optically transparent and look like they belong in the restaurant so as not to distract from the guest experience.
“Measures like this will have us ahead of the game,” Winery partner JC Clow told me last week when he gave me a tour of the Winery. “But if it’s at 50 percent occupancy, I can only seat at every other booth. No matter how you put it, it’s a starting point.”
Reduced capacity is a possibility depending on any specific contingencies when the reopening notice is given, but restaurants are hoping for the best-case scenario.
For The Winery, best case is being proactive with not only the clear dividers, but by going as touchless as possible.
“We are going to give people a QR code, you snap a photo with your phone, and you have the menu on your phone,” said Clow.
Clow is hopefully the word will come down by the end of May to reopen, and he’ll be ready—but will customers be ready to return?
“When people see all this, they will realize its nicer than they expected, the view is not blocked, and you can still people watch,” stated Clow. “It should lesson the anxiety.”
Visit thewineryrestaurants.com for more information.
Dining in the Garden with Pascal
Lessoning anxiety is a key element in Chef Pascal Olhats’ plan to reopen his Café Jardin restaurant at Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar.
“We are lucky being a mostly outdoor restaurant in a garden so we have some control, and we are going to keep it that way,” Olhats told me as we sat in the garden of his restaurant—six feet apart, of course. “You will feel safe, the staff will feel safe, I will feel safe. Here in the garden, we will do everything we can do make you feel comfortable. We will be more proactive without being invasive. It’s a refreshing way to dine.”
Olhats noted that putting new processes in place means reinventing his restaurant, but he’s up for the challenge.
“Challenge is part of my blood. It’s my motivation. This situation has been making me think—I’ve had time to think. We will use wood and bamboo tableware, everything will be biodegradable and compostable, which fits with the garden. We are going green—greener than we have been.”
His menus will be displayed at each table—both a lunch menu (he’s normally only open for lunch) and a take-out dinner menu.
“While you have lunch, you can order dinner to take home,” he said. “A one-stop thing. Come for lunch and take dinner home. I am trying to make your life easier, and hopefully tastier.”
Other plans include tables spread out in the garden so no chairs are less than six feet from each other, and a designated table for each party.
“You order lunch and drinks at the kitchen window, pay for the meal, take the drinks to your table. We don’t have to bring the check to the table, no checkbook to be touched, zero percent touching contact,” explained Olhats. “Once the food is ready, we bring you the entire lunch at once—could include salad or soup, a main course, and dessert. We will not have a server running back and forth. You can have a peaceful lunch, eat at your leisure and leave at your leisure.”
For leftovers, Olhats will have a wrapping station—no sending the plate back to the kitchen. Once diners leave the table, employees will immediately disinfect the table and chairs.
“I am not looking to pack the house,” reasons Olhats. ”I want good space, staggered reservations, no one in line ordering. If we have three or four tables every 15 minutes, I am happy with that.”
Olhats and fellow Café Jardin chef Jessica Roy currently host a pop-up booth with prepared food and grocery items, which they’ll continue to do daily 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., minus grocery items. The Sherman Garden’s creperie, run by Olhats, will also expand its service.
More Restaurants and Menus
Expanding service has been a watchword of late for numerous local restaurants. Our NB Indy website has a list of 60+ restaurant in Newport Beach alone that have been offering to-go menus, and we’re trying to update as frequently as possible: https://www.newportbeachindy.com/newport-beach-restaurants-offer-take-out-and-delivery-during-covid-19/
Some restaurants, including the Bungalow, Bayside, Muldoon’s, Fable & Spirit, Marche Moderne, and several others, have recently launched (or re-launched) their to-go service. I have been ordering from them, and others, on a regular basis. Sure I can cook, but local restaurants need our support. They all have terrific menus, and the food is almost as fabulous when dining at home. Ok, maybe not the same ambiance, but it’s sure nice to once again enjoy a Muldoon’s burger, a Bungalow patty melt, the Bayside prawns and risotto, and other delicious dishes.
Restaurants are indeed anticipating the call to action, so that when the all-clear is given, restaurants can open sooner rather than later.
I’m looking forward to hearing one of my favorite phrases: “Table for two—right this way.”