Some restaurants across the region are reopening dining rooms this week, while others are more hesitant, as COVID-19 closure and distancing guidelines are loosened across the state and nation.
Tennessee restaurants that plan to reopen are making moves to follow the 50% capacity measure ordered by Gov. Bill Lee last week.
Lee said that restaurants could open at half capacity beginning Monday in 89 of Tennessee's 95 counties while leaving the six largest counties to make their own decisions. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger decided to follow the governor's guidelines.
In Cleveland, Tennessee, two popular longtime eateries are taking different paths, with Jenkins Restaurant & Deli reopening Monday at 11 a.m. after preparing Sunday, while the Bald-Headed Bistro's owners say it's too soon.
In a social media post that thanked patrons for their ongoing support, the bistro's Facebook page read, in part, "This past month has been an unreal experience in all of our lives & businesses. We are eager to participate in restarting our economy — however, in respect to our guests and employees, we feel that it is a bit too soon to resume 'business as usual.'
"For now, we will continue with our curbside to go menu & will keep you updated on a reopening date," the bistro's post reads.
Jenkins, on the other hand, reopened at 11 a.m. Monday with the restaurant's staff donning masks and gloves under "ServSafe" certified training guidelines, said Angela Gibson, front of the house manager at the restaurant in Cleveland. Gibson on Monday said Jenkins' location in Athens, Tennessee, reopened under the same strictures. ServSafe is a company that offers food handling training courses and certification.
"We're reopening at 50% capacity, and we have seating set up for the 6-foot rule," Gibson said. Employees are being checked for symptoms as they come in, she said.
"As far as I know, we are good to go to get back to some normalcy," Gibson said.
In far more rural Sequatchie County, the Cookie Jar Café is a house-like restaurant with a large, wrap-around porch on a farm on the outskirts of Dunlap, Tennessee, that will resume some sit-down service starting Friday, May 1, using outdoor seating.
There are plans to reopen the interior dining room May 5 but with some rules, according to a Sunday night post on social media. The restaurant's service will be a developing process, it says.
"Dine In will be reservations only for at least the first week," restaurant owners wrote. "We ask no parties larger than 6 make reservations. We have removed several tables and have our seating spread out 6 feet apart. We are also implementing new sanitation guidelines. We ask that you bear with us and respect our attempts to keep our guests as well as our employees safe."
On the east side of Walden's Ridge from Dunlap's café, the Dayton Coffee Shop and Restaurant in the downtown area of the Rhea County seat expressed trepidation in a late-Sunday social media post about reopening.
"So nervous. We are opening tomorrow at 1045," the post reads. "I so want to do this the right way. We will all have masks and gloves and cleaning as much as possible. We will allow dine in but encourage take out. Seating will be spaced out and limited" to provide for 6-foot distancing.
In a post earlier this month, the coffee shop urged people not to patronize the business "unless you feel perfectly safe."
The coffee shop will start serving breakfast Wednesday at 7 a.m.
The Dixie Freeze in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, will keep it simple by continuing its take out and catering service but, "We also are not going to open our dining room until further notice due to such strict guidelines," an overnight social media post reads.
Region restaurants' response to Lee's orders mostly mirror reactions among restaurants in metro Chattanooga.
In Hamilton County, Mayor Jim Coppinger said he would reopen the county following the governor's guidelines while Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said the city would remain shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19.
But the governor's executive order left the decision whether to open up to county health departments, so the Hamilton County Health Department is following the county mayor's guidelines, which allowed restaurants to reopen on Monday.
Figures released last Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development showed almost 15% of all workers in Southeast Tennessee have filed initial claims for jobless benefits in the past four weeks amid the shutdown of restaurants, stores and many other businesses since stay-at-home orders began in March.
Lee said last week that his orders include "very specific guidance" for restaurants and shops that consist of temperature checks, masks and social distancing requirements.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.