Faced with the effects that coronavirus guidelines would have on the dining experience, Marcello Mauro got creative.
Mauro, co-owner of Nora’s Italian Cuisine at 5780 W. Flamingo Road, commissioned seven dividers to be installed between tables in his restaurant to provide for social distancing. Each divider bears a scene from the restaurant. If, for example, you’re blocked from a view of design elements on the wall, you might see them on the divider right next to your table.
Across the Las Vegas Valley, restaurant owners and their guests are finding ways to cope with the new normal and adapting as dining rooms open and takeout remains in demand.
Some creative thinking while following the rules seems to help: Mauro said he equipped his servers with clear face shields instead of masks.
“It’s nice to be able to see a smile when someone’s taking your order,” he said.
Linda Kutcher, owner of Grape Vine Cafe at 7501 W. Lake Mead Blvd., said some changes have created more labor for the staff.
“The tables aren’t set with anything,” Kutcher said. “We bring it to you. We try to communicate as far as do you need salt and pepper, etc.” Items are used only by one party, she said, and sanitized at night.
Lots of gloves
The entire staff decided to wear gloves, which must be changed between tasks.
“It’s a lot of gloves,” she said, “but it’s what we opted to do to keep everyone safe.”
Juan Vazquez, owner of Juan’s Flaming Fajitas at 9640 W. Tropicana Ave. in Las Vegas and 16 S. Water St. in Henderson, said gloves are mandatory for back-of-the-house staff and for runners, who have the most contact with food.
Vazquez said the only snag he’s encountered is that some people don’t understand reservations are necessary because of social distancing requirements, and walk-ins can’t queue up inside and outside his door, as they have in the past.
“They come in and they expect to be seated and we can’t,” he said.
Jeff Ecker, president of Paymon’s Mediterranean Cafe at 8380 W. Sahara Ave. and 8955 S. Eastern Ave., said he’s separated bussers from runners, so there’s no possibility of cross-contamination. Increased takeout has helped augment the 50 percent capacity in his dining rooms, but it also can hurt, he said, when delivery companies take anywhere from 25 to 32 percent.
“That kind of puts a dent in things,” Ecker said.
James Trees, owner of Esther’s Kitchen at 1130 S. Casino Center Blvd., said he’s tailored his menu to the products he knows he can get consistently.
Masks have been a bit of a problem, he said.
“A lot of people use people’s lips to listen to them talk,” Trees said. “So that’s been an issue. In the kitchen, we’re having to rotate cooks in and out of the stations because of the heat.”
Trees said lower capacity limits have led to a wider range of reservation times.
“People are finally not complaining about a 10:15 reservation,” he said. “So it’s actually super helpful.”
Strip location unclear
Kris Parikh, who owns Mint Indian Bistro at 730 E. Flamingo Road and 4246 S. Durango Drive and Divine Dosa & Biryani at 3049 Las Vegas Blvd. South, has opened the first two but is holding off on the Strip spot until he sees what the casinos do and when Strip traffic resumes.
“If casinos are at 25 percent (capacity), it’s going to be really tough for restaurants like ours to open up and basically spend money, digging a deeper hole,” he said. “That’s what’s keeping me awake.”
He said while the Durango location is doing “decently well,” he’s thinking of limiting the Mint on Flamingo, to maybe four days a week, including weekends.
“Anything very close to the Strip right now, I’m very skeptical for the next three months,” Parikh said.
‘Feels like it’s over’
However, Grant Turner of The Dillinger said he’s detected a definite note of optimism at his restaurant at 1224 Arizona St. in Boulder City.
“We’ve been basically full the entire time we’ve been open,” he said. “Other than the fact that our capacity is limited, it feels like we’re right back to normal.”
His servers don’t like wearing masks, and “we’re looking forward to getting past that part of it,” which he thinks will be in the not-too-distant future.
“It feels like it’s over,” Turner said. “That’s the No. 1 message I’ve gotten from my customers. The tension is gone. The worries — it feels like it has passed.”
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “But I’m also realistic.”