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As Metro Policies Allow Dining In, Restaurants Must Keep Adapting To Stay Afloat

Anne Kniggendorf
KCUR 89.3
Servers at Johnny's Tavern in Shawnee adjusted to wearing masks during their shift once their restaurant reopened.

Dining in is once again possible in and around Kansas City, with COVID-related practices in place. Customers seem happy, but some restaurants are struggling to keep up with the competing demands of the times.

Restaurants in and around Kansas City are still struggling to decide if reopening their dining areas is a smart move — both financially and for the health of their employees and customers.

In Lenexa, Margarita’s, a popular Mexican food restaurant with several metro locations, is still offering takeout, but they won’t be taking a chance reopening the dining room. This location only seats about 174 people, so manager Katie Dietz says they’ll wait and see how the location on Southwest Boulevard does first.

Some customers have been upset over the wait, Dietz says.

“We’ve gotten people screaming at us that we’re not open, and we’re just like, ‘You know, we’re trying to do it for the safety of us and the safety of you guys,’" Dietz says. “We’re waiting to see what happens to other restaurants before we’re just like, ‘Yeah, open the floodgates.’”

But in Brookside, things looked bright for Plate Restaurant, which re-opened on May 19 for dine-in service. “Our reservations looked very good. I was very pleased,” says general manager Chris Mercier. “We actually had an outstanding weekend.”

Mercier says the restaurant has changed their operations to follow — and in some instances exceed — the city’s re-opening guidelines.

“For example, I purchased some of Rieger’s hand sanitizer,” he says, “and I’ve set up sanitizing stations throughout our restaurant.”

Silverware is rolled in linens, he said, and water glasses tipped upside down, with a bottle of water for the table. And there’s a two-step process of disinfecting and sanitizing the tables between customers.

“You know, every one of them commented, we're the first restaurant they've been out to in two months,” he says. “Or, it just feels good to be able to go back to a restaurant and have somebody cook for them as opposed to cooking at home.”

Anne Kniggendorf
Dos Reales' Shawnee location on a Wednesday afternoon two weeks after reopening.

Dos Reales, a Mexican restaurant in Shawnee, has been relying on to-go orders, which haven’t declined even though dining in is now an option. Assistant Manager J.C. Quezada says he’s fielding phone calls all day from people asking if they can dine in, which, to him, indicates that even more people don’t know it’s possible.

“We do have a good group of people who enjoy our restaurant and dining in, and they miss the place, but you know with the climate of uncertainty right now, it’s still scary for some people,” Quezada says.

In order to even out expenses, Quezada says that they’re asking staff to double up, so he’s now the bartender as well as the manager.

Anne Kniggendorf
J.C. Quezada is the assistant manager at Dos Reales in Shawnee and is now the bartender as well.

“Before, we would have somebody bring out chips to your table, we’d have a bus boy, we’d have food runners, and now, we’re asking more from our servers to do those services instead of hiring more people,” he says.

Tammy and Jay Niles were the lone diners on Dos Reales’ patio area early Wednesday evening. It was their first time eating any restaurant food other than a few delivered pizzas since mid-March, and they’d just received their chips and salsa.

They chose Dos Reales because it’s near their home and they wanted to support a small, local business.

“I knew they had an outdoor patio too, which makes us a little bit safer,” Tammy Niles says. “I got off early, and this is his night off, so we just thought, it’s a chance to go out and just try it.”

Restrictions on capacity have also been rough for Johnny’s Tavern. Co-owner Sean Haydock says that of their 11 locations, 10 have decided to reopen dine-in services.

“At 40% we’re not profitable,” Haydock says, “but we’re playing the long game, hoping that as restrictions ease and people feel more comfortable that we can get back closer to the business we were doing before we closed down.”

05.27.20_Johnny's Tavern Shawnee New plexiglass guards_Anne Kniggendorf.jpg
Anne Kniggendorf
Johnny's Tavern in Shawnee now has plexiglass guards between every booth.

Moreover, Johnny’s struggles to balance the demands of curbside and pick-up — services that hadn’t been especially popular prior to March — with caring for seated customers.

“It takes a lot more people to do what we’re doing than normal,” Haydock says. They’ve seen no drop-off in the demand for to-go orders, so they’ve set aside their party room as a staging area where employees have enough space to remain six feet from each other, though that means losing the room for seating.

“It’s a very big challenge,” he says, “It’s going to take time to get back to where we were.”

Michael Garozzo agrees, and he didn’t want to wait. “I opened the day that I was allowed to open legally,” he says. “We need to get open, we got to get back in the game.”

He owns Garozzo’s Ristorante, known for heaps of pasta, chicken spiedini and a Frank Sinatra in the background.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced the next phase of his reopening plan yesterday: from June 1 through July 5, businesses can go from 10% capacity to 50%.

So far, Garozzo says, he’d like to “be doing more business than I’m doing.” But, with social distancing guidelines in Kansas City, Missouri, he estimates that the restaurant is only working at 35–45% capacity, including carry-out orders.

“So you know, is it getting better? I hope so,” says Garozzo. “I think in time it’s going to get better and better. We’re a work-in-progress. Everybody is. No one knows. The thing about the coronavirus is no one knows what’s going to happen. No one has any idea what to expect.”

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