Some restaurant dining rooms reopening under coronavirus safety guidelines

Jeff Bobo • Apr 28, 2020 at 2:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Dining room service at the Hale Springs Inn reopened Monday for the first time in more than a month, although getting a table was a bit like checking in for a medical examination.

Before you can be seated, you must first answer a few questions such as: Are you feeling well today? Do you have a cough or fever? Have you traveled outside the country recently? Have you been exposed to anyone whose tested positive for COVID-19?

It may seem like a lot of hassle to sit down for soup and a sandwich.

Anyone who has tried one of Hale Springs Inn proprietor Jo Anderson's Reuben sandwiches will tell you it's a small price to pay.

“People are being a little cautious”

Monday was the first day Tennessee restaurants could reopen their dining rooms since the statewide COVID-19 shutdown, albeit under state-mandated guidelines including customer screening, employees must wear masks and gloves, tables spread out at least 6 feet apart, stringent sanitizing guidelines and no parties greater that six people per table.

The Hale Springs Inn dining room, located on Main Street in downtown Rogersville, is now open for lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will begin dining room service for supper Tuesday evening.

Only four people had dined in Monday shortly before 2 p.m.

“A lot of people are still using our drive-through,” Anderson told the Times News. “Maybe not everyone knows we're open (inside) again. Maybe people are being a little cautious. But we still had a lot of business at our drive-through.”

“Servers have to wear masks and gloves”

There's a lot more to operating a dining room in the coronavirus era than screening the customers before they sit down.

“We have to sanitize the tables, and we don't have an condiments or anything that would be shared with any other customers,” Anderson said. “As soon as people leave, we sanitize the chairs and the table. We've got our tables spread out. We measured them. They're all over 6 feet apart, and we can only have parties of six or less.”

Anderson added, “Servers have to wear masks and gloves and sanitize each time they use the handheld (credit card swiper) and sanitize every time they touch a customer.”

Is it worth all the trouble to reopen the dining room?

“We'll find out,” Anderson said.

“We just feel like it's a little bit early”

The social distancing requirements will cut most dining room capacities at least in half. Ben McGrew, who owns and operates the Red Dog on Main Street in downtown Rogersville said it's not economically feasible for him to reopen under these new restrictions.

He said Red Dog is going to stay with the carry-out service they began about three weeks ago.

“We just feel like it's a little bit early,” McGrew said. “We don't have any science behind that. It just felt early. Also, with our menu — full service sit-down dining — it was tough to make the numbers work with half the dining room capacity.”

McGrew added, “We're going to evaluate it day by day. People have been very receptive to take out, and we've gotten great reviews. It exceeded our expectations, but we miss our customers. We miss the interaction with the community and our customers, so for now we're going to stay on this course, but we're evaluating it day by day.”

“We have a lot of room to social distance”

The Hale Springs Inn was closed for the first two weeks after the statewide shutdown began. They used that time to completely sanitize the restaurant and nine hotel suites. The hotel has been open for about a week.

Anderson said she doesn't feel like Monday’s reopening is too soon for Rogersville, although if she was in a major metropolitan area she might not feel ready to open up the dining room just yet.

“It's a small town, and we don't have a lot of cases here,” she said. “I don't have any reservations about opening back up. If I didn't feel like it was safe, I wouldn't have opened the dining room.”

Anderson added, “We have a lot of room to social distance. We have the main dining room, the small dining room and the patio, and when it gets a little bit nicer, I think people will want to sit on the patio where there's plenty of room to social distance. We can't open the bar yet, but we can serve alcohol. Bar areas are to remain closed until further notice.”

Non-essential shops can reopen Wednesday 

Rogersville Chamber of Commerce Director Nancy Barker noted that non-essential retail businesses such as downtown Rogersville’s antique, gift, clothing and art shops and galleries can begin reopening Wednesday under state-mandated guidelines limiting the number of customers allowed in and other safety precautions.

Barker provided retail businesses a “care package,” which included guidelines from the governor’s Tennessee Pledge and CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and health department requirements.

The Chamber care packages also included 10 face masks per business, bottles of hand sanitizer and Health Department posters that list safety guidelines for working with the pubic.

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