Some restaurants opting out of allowing dine-in during first phase of economic reopening

Published: Apr. 22, 2020 at 6:32 PM AKDT
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Although state and local leaders have laid out a plan scaling back business restrictions, some Anchorage restaurants will be choosing to not open their doors to dine in customers.

Starting Friday across the state and Monday in Anchorage, restaurants will be able to allow dine-in guests up to 25 percent of capacity, provided there are at least 10 feet between tables and other safety protocols are in place.

“Honestly we would love to be able to open tomorrow for the community. We miss having people in our dining room,” Altura Bistro chef and owner Nathan Bentley said. “However, it’s been a struggle being able to get some of the PPE equipment to ensure that we can provide a safe work environment for our employees and for our guests as well as the community, so we have chosen for the first set of restrictions to not open.”

Altura Bistro in Midtown has been operating with curb-side pick up for weeks. Bentley says the community has embraced the 10-month-old restaurant and support its effort to match donations for Beans’ Cafe. Yet the first phase of re-opening the economy is not a good fit for his business model or the restaurant’s floor plan.

“We need to have at least 35 percent capacity to ensure that we’re covering our costs,"Bentley said. "So for us to try to open at 25 percent capacity just doesn’t work for our business model. We have a very small dining room, and to be able to ensure proper social distancing, we’re not able to handle that in our space at this time."

In downtown, 49th State Brewing Co. has the floor space to spread out tables and operate at a fraction of its capacity, but co-owner David McCarthy says it is also waiting before welcoming guests back in its doors.

“We’re exciting that things are lifting," McCarthy said, "but one thing that we consider in the hospitality and the brewing industry is that our businesses are about expectation management and about trust."

McCarthy says that this weekend the restaurant will be replacing its faucets, soap dispensers and toilets with automatic version of the appliance as it continues it evaluate ways to make the dining experience safer.

“One of the challenges is you have to think about how many surfaces are touched on a daily basis. We are going through every single possible point of touch in the restaurant from our menus to our drink menus to the glassware, and what we’re doing is creating a new procedure for each one of those,” McCarthy said. “You have to think about a server coming to the table - how are they going to present a menu to you? Do we reuse the menus or do we just sanitize them between each guest? When a busser comes to the table, does the busser come to the table to clear off each plate between courses or do we wait until the end?"

McCarthy said his team is going to address all those issues over the next week and put procedures in place that make guests feel as comfortable as possible in trusting the entity and making sure it is doing everything it can do to make sure patrons stay safe.

While both Altura Bistro and 49th State Brewing Co. have been able to adjust their business model to allow them to continue operating with curbside pickup, other restaurants weren’t as positioned to adjust to the change.

The Rustic Goat in the Turnagain neighborhood offered take away service at the beginning of the mandates but has since discontinued that and has completely closed. Owner Tim Gravel says he is making the best of the closure by completing some projects at the restaurant and that it will not be reopening for limited dine-in capacity come Monday.

All three owners say they are looking forward to establishing business in a new normal soon.

“As some businesses open, other businesses may take time," McCarthy said. “ But we’re all in this together and the number one thing is about community safety and our goal from day one was to be part of a solution, and all the steps that we are doing going forward to be open are going to be here.”

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