KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- Restaurant owner Jonathan Russell is eager to give guests a taste of normalcy again. His downtown Kingsport destination, Backwoods Burger Bar, resumed dine-in service today as part of Tennessee’s Phase One of reopening.
“It’s a struggle just trying to sit at home everyday. For us to be able to supply that to [guests] and give them an outlet to come out to, it’s really important to us,” Russell said.
Reopening dine-in service doesn’t mean everything is how it used to be pre-pandemic. Restaurants must follow safety guidelines outlined by the state, including only allowing seating at 50% capacity. Backwoods Burger Bar is keeping its bar closed, holding off on hosting live music, and is constantly sanitizing.
“We’re using disposable menus, plates, silverware. Anything we can do to make it that much safer,” said Russell.
Customers at Kingsport’s Barberitos Southwestern Grille & Cantina will see every other table blocked off to maintain social distancing. Servers like Mackenzie Perry wear mandatory masks as they take care of guests.
“It’s nice to have our customers back, of course at a safe distance,” Perry said. “We like to make sure they’re still getting the full experience, they’re still feeling like they’re at Barbs, but they’re still being safe about it.”
In order to reopen Monday, Barberitos also has to operate under Tennessee’s restaurant guidelines.
“We have markers on the floor to keep people apart. We’re pre-packaging our salsa bar. We’re also doing drink refills,” said Perry. “Basically everything is hands-off for the customers right now.”
Despite being allowed to reopen Monday, many restaurants aren’t yet. The owners of Giuseppe’s in Kingsport still don’t believe dine-in service is safe for staff and guests yet.
“Believe me, the first thing we want to do is open up,” said co-owner Mike Misciagna.
But the Italian restaurant specializes in gatherings and parties for large groups. Under Tennessee’s Phase One guidelines, groups must be limited to six people per table.
“It makes sense for some restaurants to do that, and operate in half capacity, 50% capacity. We can’t,” Misciagna said. “The restaurant design, the way it’s supposed to operate, we can’t, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Misciagna also said guidelines on screening employees and customers for COVID-19 symptoms through temperature checks would also be too difficult to follow right now.
“We have to make sure their temperature is taken, our temperature is taken, and all that, everyday. I don’t know if we’re ready for that yet. I don’t even know how to do it,” he said.
For now, restaurants like Giuseppe’s will stick to carryout service.
“I don’t know that it will ever be normal again, like we know it, but we’re sure going to try towards it,” Misciagna said.