It’s 1 p.m. on a rainy Sunday over Memorial Day Weekend.
With Fort Lauderdale Beach and Las Olas Boulevard completely drenched, an indoor stroll through Galleria Mall and, perhaps, a bite to eat sounds good.
In a pre-COVID-19 world, the mall would be busy, but lounging on a plush chair by its H&M anchor, the Galleria’s foot traffic primarily consists of its vigilant cleaning crew, a handful of mall-walking diehards, and the periodic perusing couple.
This non-normal moment in time at the Galleria is indicative of the broader retail and restaurant space throughout Fort Lauderdale and Broward County: Businesses, and the public alike, a
Monday, May 18, marked the first day since the COVID-19 lockdown that Broward County restaurants could have guests in their restaurants for a dine-in experience. They could do so under tight restrictions, including operating at 50 percent capacity, table distancing, bar-area limitations, stringent sanitation requirements, and much more.
Some local restaurants were rearing to go, while others delayed for their own necessary reasons.
“We saw that Palm Beach County opened on the 11th and, once I heard that, we put a plan into motion on how we were going to open on May 18,” says Jess Louis, co-owner of Legends Tavern and Grille, which has locations in Sunrise, Lighthouse Point, Pompano Beach, and Deerfield Beach.
Since opening on May 18, Legends saw an uptick in guests with each day and, according to Louis, “while our traffic is not where we should be, it’s heading in a very positive direction.”
In addition to adhering to all pertinent guidelines, Legends has installed hands-free door openers, QR codes for customers to scan and digitally access menus, and hand sanitizer stands throughout its restaurants.
“Our mindset as a company is that we’re prepared to go with the times, make the changes we can make, and keep moving our brand forward,” Louis says.
In Oakland Park, Kith & Co. opened its space for dine-in guests for the first time on Tuesday, May 19. The coffee shop, cocktail bar, and flower shop hybrid opened in the heart of the pandemic – for takeout and delivery – on April 26.
“It’s been really exciting to allow people into the space so they can get a clearer view of what we’re all about,” says Kith & Co. co-owner Joel Carpenter. “We’ve certainly been adjusting to this new normal, just as a lot of businesses have been as well.”
Rather than opening on Monday, May 18, Carpenter says the staff spent that day ensuring all protection measures and procedures were firmly in place. Among its unique safety components, the restaurant installed ultraviolet sterilization filters as part of its HVAC system. Since opening, Kith & Co. has launched new menu items and a daily 4 to 7 p.m. happy hour to keep its growing customer base engaged.
On Las Olas Boulevard in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Lobster Bar Sea Grille celebrated its grand reopening on Friday, May 22.
“We extensively trained our service team and kitchen staff, including mock service scenarios... we wanted to practice and see what the dining experience was going to look like,” says Niko Karatassos, president of Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, which operates eight restaurants in Georgia and four throughout South Florida. “We ensured all of our ducks were in a row, and everyone was aware of the new measures.”
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Through lines among the group’s operations, in addition to following all necessary guidelines, include placing silverware in small paper baggies, single-use menus, ensuring servers are not the ones primarily cleaning tables and COVID-19 testing for all employees.
“Our employees are happy to be back and happy to be working together,” Karatassos says.
As for the times ahead, Karatassos says the number one priority is “trying to survive.” And, amid the climate we find ourselves in where local restaurants need our business more than ever, this is surely the priority for so many more too.