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Restaurants cautiously opening dining rooms

Island Time, a restaurant in Thornton Park, is following procedures set forth by Orange County on May 1st to keep customers safe while also re-opening businesses in the county. (Photo by S.T. Cardinal)

As Orange County’s plan to re-open businesses begins, restaurants have been re-opening their dining rooms…cautiously.

Island Time, for example, is a restaurant in Thornton Park that re-opened to dine-in customers on Tuesday. Devon Tillman, owner of Island Time, has adopted some precautions as the restaurant starts the process of shifting to normal operations. All dinnerware and menus are now disposable, orders are now placed at the counter, the maximum diners allowed in the restaurant are cut by 75% and tables are spaced six feet apart.

“We’re staying cautious about it,” Tillman said. “We’re just limiting contact, so that’s why the whole disposable items and the quick serve type service. It’s just to limit contact between everybody.”

Orange County’s plan to re-open businesses in the state began with Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings’ executive order 20-12 on May 1. This order states that restaurants can operate at 25% capacity in their dining room with tables six feet apart and parties of less than 10.

The Orange County executive order is more strict than phase I of the State of Florida’s “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step” plan for re-opening businesses in Florida, which allows 50% capacity indoors. Phase I of Florida’s plan started May 4, a few days after the Orange County order went into effect. For restaurants in Orlando, the 25% indoor capacity rule takes precedent over the state’s plan.

There is no capacity limit outdoors, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer announced a lax on City restrictions, allowing restaurants to expand seating into their parking lots and public rights of way without applying for permits or paying fees.

When restrictions were initially ordered in late March and dining rooms were forced to close, many restaurants switched to take-out only. Island Time ran a daily take-out special for 10 dollars, and Tillman said Island Time “wasn’t really making any money” during that time, but it helped them stay relevant. And that was with one employee on the payroll: himself.

Other restaurants opted to fully close during the April shutdown. One such restaurant was Rusteak, which shuttered their College Park location after the initial restrictions closed dining rooms. On Monday, they opened their dining room at 25% occupancy with strict cleaning and safety precautions in place, but they can’t survive on such a limited crowd.

“One thing that is helping us are the to-go orders,” Daniel Aguilar, manager of Rusteak’s College Park location, said. “Considering the 25% maximum occupancy, we’re still relying on to-go orders. We pretty much changed our business model toward catering to to-go orders.”

The Ramen, a Japanese restaurant on N. Orange Avenue, isn’t opening their dining room yet. Son Park, the owner of the Japanese restaurant, said he wants to make sure the pandemic is fully behind them before taking that risk. He’s been working by himself to save money, and said dine-in customers used to be 85% of his business.

Now, he says, there have been days where he hasn’t sold any to-go orders. Park said he is worried that not enough people have been tested and is worried that tourism in Orlando will take a long time to rebound.

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