Restaurant owners expressed mixed thoughts Friday after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ announcement Friday that COVID-19 restrictions across the state will be lifting as Florida enters Phase 3 of reopening.
According to the governor’s Guidelines for Opening Up Florida, “Restaurants and food service establishments may operate at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols.” The same goes for bars, pubs and night clubs.
“We truly appreciate the governor’s support and his initiatives regarding supporting local businesses,” said Don DiFrisco, who owns Hell ‘n Blazes Brewing Co. in downtown Melbourne. “But at this point, Hell ‘n Blazes has no intention of going beyond 50 percent to maintain the appropriate physical distancing to ensure the safety of our customers.”
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The brewery and restaurant is large, with high ceilings, and even at 50% can hold 150 people. DiFrisco and his staff have removed tables to keep capacity down. Each table has a laminated card, green on one side to indicate the table has been sanitized, red on the other to let people know it needs to be cleaned.
Lello’s Ristorante Pizzeria in Rockledge occupies a much more compact space. Even at full capacity, owner Lello De Francesco only has room for about 30 guests. Still, he plans to remain at half that.
“Because still, people don’t want to go to the places and sit down,” he said. “They don’t feel comfortable.”
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He has customers who will only eat outside, even in the rain.
“I have a small place,” he said. “When we do full capacity, I feel like we’re on top of each other.”
He’s been doing a lot of takeout and delivery since the pandemic began.
“That’s pretty much what’s supporting my business right now,” he said. “It’s tough for me, but at least my customers are happy about it. When we have a vaccine, I’m going to be open at full capacity.”
Like DiFrisco, Zoran Stanojkovski said the capacity limits haven’t been a problem at his cuiZine Restaurant & Lounge in Satellite Beach.
“I’ve been thankful and blessed, because we have a huge space, so we have not seen much difference in the business,” he said.
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The restaurant, which seats 215, is divided into four rooms, making it easy to provide physical distance between tables. Right now, he’s doing a steady business of 50 to 60 customers.
He plans to take cues from his customers, as he has with his staff and masks. He and his servers have masks available, and wear them if a guest requests it.
“I’m still going to have distance,” he said, “until we get comfortable. I’m going to honor what the customers want.”
At Ember & Oak in downtown Melbourne, chef and owner Kevin Andersen said he, too, will keep COVID-19 protocols in place.
“We still won’t be offering bar seating,” he said, “and all of our tables will still be socially distant. We will all still be in masks and gloves and will require masks upon entry. None of our policies change.”
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DiFrisco said Phase 3 will bring one advantage to his business: the ability to host private parties. Hell ‘n Blazes has a private room that will hold 40 to 50 guests. People have been calling to reserve it for events with the hope that gatherings of that size would be allowed.
“With the governor’s approval, we will be able to entertain more of those parties,” DiFrisco said.
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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Brevard restaurant owners to continue limiting indoor dining capacity as Phase 3 begins