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Steak on a paper plate? Restaurants consider whatever it takes

Steak on a paper plate? Restaurants consider whatever it takes

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It’s hard to eat a nice dinner out while wearing a face mask.

But local restaurant operators are preparing for the day, perhaps in mid-June, they will be able to reopen their businesses for dine-in service, and short of requiring customers to cover their faces, they are considering measures that three months ago would have been unthinkable.

The Queensbury Hotel is planning for single-use cutlery, plates and menus when it reopens dine-in service, said Tyler Herrick, general manager of the hotel on the corner of Maple and Ridge streets in downtown Glens Falls.

“It will be an adjustment for guests and staff. Paper plates is not what you think of for a nice dinner out,” he said. “Is the dinner experience the same when the server has a mask?”

Herrick is part of a Warren County economic task force formed to respond to the pandemic shutdown. He has been focusing on procurement of supplies, such as personal protective gear and chemical disinfectants, that small businesses may have trouble obtaining as they reopen.

Past practice at the hotel was to keep cleaning staff out of sight, like ninjas who got their work done without anyone noticing, he said. But with heightened awareness of the necessity for constant cleaning, attitudes may change.

“Now I think it’s going to be, customers are going to want to see that,” he said.

Sticking with takeout

Push your chair back in a local restaurant pre-pandemic and you were likely to bump into the person seated at a table behind you or at least block the aisle where waiters were squeezing through.

Now, with the 6-foot separation rules, restaurants will have to reduce their capacities, which could make reopening a questionable step, financially.

Managers at a couple of downtown Glens Falls restaurants said it wouldn’t be worth it for them to reopen if they had to reduce their capacity by as much as 50 percent, and they didn’t want to offer customers a compromised experience.

“With a restaurant, you want to fill to capacity and empty out two or two and a half times a night,” said Brian Kozelouzek, general manager of Siam Thai Sushi on Maple Street. “If you know ahead of time, you can’t do that, it’s not practical.

“Once somebody is in the door, you don’t want to rush them,” he said. “It’s easier to ensure a good experience for everyone by serving delicious takeout.”

Although they’re grateful for steady takeout business during the shutdown, the restaurant has had to cut down its staff, especially in the front of the house, which has gone from a dozen people to one full-time and two part-time.

A Payroll Protection Program loan has helped Mikado, on Glen Street in Glens Falls, but he, too, questions the value of reopening under rules that will severely limit business, said Danny Chang, co-owner and chef.

“If there’s too much restriction, I don’t want to open back up,” he said.

He worries, too, about summer clientele that has come to the area from downstate, where COVID-19 has been far more prevalent.

“It might be better to wait until the government has more control of this virus. I don’t see full control yet,” he said.

“If we can only run half of the restaurant, we had better stay closed, because I’m taking risks for nothing,” he said.

Good food, fresh air

One way some operators see to cut down on risks is to take advantage of outdoor space on their properties and the mild summer evenings of upstate New York.

“The majority of our seating will be outside,” said Kelly Ehlert, owner and chef at Kelly’s Roots on Luzerne Road in Queensbury, which concentrates on fresh, locally grown food for breakfast and dinner.

The restaurant has decks it uses for outdoor seating, which could be expanded onto a large lawn.

At Morgan & Co. on Ridge Street in downtown, summer evenings have traditionally seen the restaurant’s large porch filled with customers having cocktails and eating dinner.

The property has more space on a lawn, so diners could be spaced out.

“We’re going to use every precaution necessary so people are comfortable,” said owner Rebecca Newell-Butters.

“The porch can seat 55, and if we have to reduce that, we will. Also, we have outdoor patio space. The entire property is just gorgeous,” she said.

Warm summer nights are ideal for dining al fresco, and if it gets cool, the staff can put heaters out, she said.

Both Kelly’s Roots and Morgan & Co. also benefited from government help to keep businesses afloat during the pandemic, their owners said.

Russell Porreca, owner of Raul’s in downtown Glens Falls, has also benefited from a Payroll Protection Act loan, but he pointed out the Catch-22 in the program.

“They open up this money. They want you to hire everybody back, but the restaurant is closed,” he said.

He has been doing well with takeout, though, and he, too, intends to expand his outdoor seating once the state reaches Phase 3, when restaurants can begin to reopen under the state’s plan.

Loyal local customers are keeping the restaurants alive.

“Mother’s Day was amazing this year, I couldn’t believe how much takeout we did,” Newell-Butters said. “All of our regulars were having a nice night out for themselves.”

She feels especially badly for friends who work in restaurants in Lake George, many of which open only for the summer, she said.

About Glens Falls, which has had a growing metropolitan feel in recent years, particularly in its dining scene, she is hopeful.

“I know everything will be OK. I just want it to be OK,” she said.

Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at

@trafficstatic.

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