Nearly three full months after they first closed their doors but just two weeks after most of them began offering some level of outdoor service, restaurants in Anne Arundel and Calvert County were permitted to reopen for indoor dining—at 50 percent capacity and with strict health and safety measures—under Stage Two of Governor Hogan’s Roadmap to Recovery on June 12.
As is the case with outdoor dining, restaurants must follow state guidelines including a minimum of six-foot distancing between tables, six-person table seating limits, paper or sanitized menus, disinfecting high-contact surfaces after each use, and employee training and screening. All staff, including cooks, must wear face coverings at all times, and patrons must wear masks when walking to or from their table. In Calvert County, the health department has added guidelines, requesting nine feet of space around tables and the use of disposable menus, condiments and flatware.
But after putting our sandals on the ground and visiting over a dozen restaurants in the region, the verdict from restaurant owners, employees, and patrons is clear: whether for indoor dining or outdoor dining, the precautions are well worth the price of admission.
What Owners Say
At Paul’s Homewood Café, manager Leah Marriott reports the restaurant began offering its Greek-American menu for takeout immediately after closing and created an outdoor parking space patio that seats 26 just a few weeks ago, but is very happy to be able to now serve a maximum of 35 guests inside. “We’re just happy to be able to bring back our staff, operate on a day to day basis, and keep adapting to the ‘new normal,’” said Marriott.
The same goes for restaurants such as Chart House (Annapolis), Yellowfin Steak & Fish House (Edgewater), and Kingfishers Seafood Bar & Grill (Solomons), where water views of Spa Creek, the South River, and Back Creek are a major part of the dining experience.
“We are very excited to be able to accommodate guests in the dining room again,” said Yellowfin General Manager Matt Snowden. Along with following all health and safety guidelines, he notes that guests will be limited to 90 minutes and reservations will be required for the foreseeable future in order to serve people quickly. At Kingfishers, nine-foot-distanced tables are on a first-come, first-serve basis, though the overall goal is safely seating as many guests as possible.
Maximizing capacity is certainly the name of the game at Boatyard Bar and Grill, where owner Dick Franyo says reopening and bringing back all of his staff “wouldn’t be viable” without the ability to offer 50 percent seating inside and 50 percent seating outside, under the two massive tents that he installed after going through a detailed yet speedy approval process with the City of Annapolis.
The same goes for Soul, where general manager Misti Dragano reports 50 percent occupancy inside and doubling the size of outdoor seating has proven a great success.
“We’ve been doing really well with outdoor seating, and as long as the weather is good, that is what people prefer. I think people are still skeptical about dining indoors.” reports Maria Lubrano, owner of Mamma Lucia’s in Calvert County. The North Beach location overlooks the Bay with a rooftop dining space.
“We started Friday with opening up inside,” says Lindsey Chroniger, manager of Neptune’s in North Beach. “We have tables spaced nine feet apart, the bar stools are seated in groups also nine feet apart. We are taking more time for sanitation in-between guests. The bathrooms, entryways and highly touched areas are being frequently cleaned. We have more staff available to keep up with all the standards set out by the state.”
There are, of course, some restaurants whose small interiors mean that socially-distanced indoor dining doesn’t make sense – but where vastly expanded outdoor options are sustaining business.
Eastport’s Bread and Butter Kitchen, for example, only has room for four people inside, but Monica Alvarado praises the restaurant’s landlord, neighbors, and the Eastport Business Association for being flexible and helpful in converting three parking spots to seating. Diehl’s Produce is providing plants to enhance the space.
The same goes for JesseJay’s Latin Inspired Kitchen in Churchton, where the small dining room is now being used to support a thriving carryout business but the outdoor patio and bar are able to accommodate more people than the dining room ever could.
“We’re extremely grateful that our carry out business has been solid throughout the pandemic and the community has welcomed us so openly,” said co-owner Jayleen Fonseca. “We’ve actually had to limit the amount of carry out orders per hour since outdoor dining began, and we even plan to expand the kitchen soon. Plus we still have plans for pig roasts, salsa lessons, and plenty of special events in the future.”
What Customers Say
From regulars to first-timers, patrons were clearly hungry, both literally and figuratively, to visit restaurants throughout the area during a beautiful early summer weekend.
West Marine employee Paul Watts has been ordering carryout from next-door restaurant Grump’s since it closed, and now likes having the option of enjoying their “amazing sandwiches” inside or outside. Same for Nellie, a lifelong Paul’s Homewood Café patron who recently made the move from takeout to patio and looks forward to dining inside soon. Kristin Dyak has enjoyed the ability to socialize over dinner and drinks outside, plus support local businesses through carryout, but can’t wait to return to Sailor Oyster Bar.
But for many local diners, the most important aspect of being able to dine out is the return of social interactions they’d sorely missed.
“I’ve really, really missed it,” said Lissy Kerr. “Being a social person, I crave interaction, and I love being able to go out and enjoy company whether inside or outside.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Bill Hebert, a USNA alum who missed dining with friends and looks forward to returning to a long list of his regular haunts – and as he pointed out, having the option to sit inside as the temperatures and humidity rise.
Ditto for Kayla Twain, of Chesapeake Beach, who’s recently enjoyed dining al fresco at The Pier Restaurant (Solomons) and Boathouse (Deale) and has Plaza Mexico and Ketch 22, both in North Beach, atop her dine-in list. “I’m so excited indoor dining is reopening,” said Twain. “I’m glad restaurants that have been struggling to make it through closure have the opportunity to welcome guests back and hopefully stay afloat. As long as it’s done in a safe and responsible manner, I’m all for it. Plus, it means Chris (her fiancée) and I will be able to do our weekly date nights out again.”
Expanded dining options brought more than just smiles to patrons. Tom Watts Jr. drove from Delaware to Annapolis as soon as he heard he had the opportunity to again have a few beers with his dad, Annapolitan Tom Sr., at Boatyard Bar and Grill. “I was elated to hear that Annapolis was reopening for indoor dining and drinking because Delaware isn’t,” said Watts Jr. “Dad loves his happy hours.”
Brittany Hunter and Hal Nichols, whom I met while having brunch at Chick and Ruth’s Delly on Sunday morning, proudly reported that they’d come from Largo and made the restaurant their first dine-in choice. Hunter chose it for its “amazing food and classic menu,” Nichols said it was his choice because of “customer service that’s definitely on-point.”
And then there was Magloire and Perrine, two D.C. diplomats from Paris whom I met just before launching my paddleboard off a dock next to the Chart House. After offering to take a picture of the fancily-clad couple, they informed me that they were there to celebrate Perrine’s birthday and were extremely excited to have found the restaurant, one of the closest on-the-water options with indoor availability, on Google. Their excitement increased when they saw the view of downtown Annapolis and I told them that they’d be celebrating in a restaurant where boats were once built.
Dining out clearly means different things to everyone in Chesapeake country, but the ability to do it, whether inside or outside, whether at this or that restaurant, for the first time or the 50th time, is something Marylanders have missed.