Fort Lauderdale Restaurants Welcome Back Diners Under Coronavirus Restrictions

Legends Tavern & Grille, Lobster Bar and the newly-opened Kith & Co. are among the Broward and Fort Lauderdale spots welcoming guests for dine-in experiences under very strict guidelines.
After surviving a takeout and delivery-only environment for weeks, Legends Tavern & Grille fans can now enjoy its Cowboy Burger in-restaurant.
After surviving a takeout and delivery-only environment for weeks, Legends Tavern & Grille fans can now enjoy its Cowboy Burger in-restaurant. Photo courtesy of Legends Tavern & Grille
Share this:
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.

Some stores and restaurants are open, and some, notably Cooper’s Hawk and Blue Martini, are still temporarily shuttered. A few masked families are scattered around the food court.

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.”
click to enlarge
Stickers guide shoppers and diners through the Galleria Mall.
Photo by Jesse Scott
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.”

Days before the Las Olas restaurant’s reopening, Karatassos’ team reopened City Fish Market and Chops Lobster Bar in Boca Raton. The company’s Georgia operations reopened approximately two weeks ago.

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. 
KEEP NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls. Make a one-time donation today for as little as $1.