Hand sanitizer stations sit at restaurant entrances as servers protected in face masks guide customers to a table. At the table, a customer wipes the surface with a disinfecting wipe. Meanwhile, restaurant employees race against time as they scramble to prepare recipes, take orders and answer phone calls all before 15 minutes goes by and they have to wash their hands, again.
Restaurants across Texas are experiencing these conditions brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide executive order to reopen restaurants went into effect May 1, leaving San Marcos restaurants to decide to either open dine-in service limited to 25% occupancy or lose out on funds that help keep their businesses afloat.
Restaurants opening their dining space must follow health protocols like placing hand sanitizer stations at every entrance and screening staff members for COVID-19 symptoms before entry.
Industry opened its dining space May 8 after being closed since March 17. Harlan Scott, Industry co-founder, said between indoor and outdoor seating, Industry can seat up to 40 people with 25% occupancy.
If the restaurant can host 40 customers for lunch and dinner, Scott said he feels hopeful the restaurant will be in good shape.
Scott said he implemented strategies in addition to the government’s regulations to ensure the safety of his staff and customers. There are new door openers allowing customers to open doors with their feet, menus provided through a QR code and contactless payment readers that allow guests to tap their cards to pay.
Although he feels optimistic about reopening, Scott said it is challenging for a small business to do so during this time.
“There’s a lot of shaming right now on businesses that are opening and how they’re being reckless or greedy, but the truth is, a lot of people can’t afford to stay closed or their families won’t eat,” Scott said.
Ivar’s River Pub opened for dine-in service May 7 after temporarily closing on March 17.
Denele Gunnarson, Ivar’s co-owner, said the restaurant will be following the government’s health protocols and will be offering more disposable items such as condiment packets, menus and paper napkins. She said the restaurant enhanced its own health policy and trained staff to follow safety protocol.
“They’ll be wearing face masks. Anybody handling food will be wearing gloves, and we’ll have hand sanitizer stations around the restaurant,” Gunnarson said. “They’ll be checked for fever and sick employees will be sent home.”
Despite the changes restaurants made to their dining scene, frequent restaurant-goers are still on the fence about dining in.
Analise Gutierrez, a public health education and promotion masters student, co-runs i35eats, an Instagram food blog that focuses on eateries throughout Central Texas. Guiterrez said even though she misses the dining-in aspect of restaurants, she is choosing to opt for takeout orders only.
“I think takeout is definitely the safest option for employees and the community,” Guiterrez said. “(We think) it’s better to takeout, and that’s what we’ve kinda promoted on our Instagram.”
Several local restaurants said they are not ready to reopen to the public and do not want to pose a health risk to their staff or customers.
After being closed since March 17, Taproom owner Travis Kelsey said the pub reopened May 1 with curbside service only. Kelsey said he decided to keep the dining area closed to protect employees and customers.
“We’re leaning on the side of caution when it comes to opening the interior of the restaurant,” Kelsey said. “We’re going to do curbside delivery from 4-8 p.m. and then we’ll start to reassess on a weekly basis and see what happens.”
Umami is another local eatery choosing to keep their dining room closed. Jed Fule, social media manager and server, said the restaurant has not established a timetable as to when it plans to open for dine-in service but will continue to offer pick-up and delivery orders.
“We feel that there’s no point at putting people’s health at risk, especially the employees and customers,” Fule said. “We’re definitely going to play it by ear and see how other businesses in San Marcos go about opening.”
North Street also opted to stick to curbside delivery. But owner Chase Katz said he misses its community, family-like atmosphere. He said the restaurant prides itself on being a “third place”, a place people frequently visit besides their home and work.
“One of the things we’ve painted on our steps is ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood’ and we’re very much in the neighborhood and part of the neighborhood and a place for the people in the community to come to,” Katz said. “We want to open safely; it’s important to us.”
For more information on the status of local restaurants, visit them on social media or give them a call.
The University Star’s COVID-19 coverage can be found here.