INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Customers slowly trickled inside eateries Monday morning, the day all restaurants and retail stores statewide reopened indoor and outdoor services with limited capacity.
The safety measures – part of what Gov. Ron DeSantis dubbed “phase one” – were in full effect as employees at McDonald’s, Maryland Fried Chicken and IHOP Restaurant wore protective face masks while taking orders and serving customers. Customers at IHOP were greeted with a sign on the front door that says, “Welcome Back. Please use social distance.”
Customers along with employees practiced social distancing at the McDonald’s on U.S. 1 in Vero Beach. While the drive-thru had back-to-back traffic, only a few customers ventured inside.
“We’re happy our regular customers are able to come in while respecting social distancing guidelines. Customers are getting their favorite cup of coffee, and are happy to sit down instead of eating in their cars,” McDonald’s Owner Jeremy Odom said. “Lots of regulars who usually come everyday are getting back to their normal routines.”
Signs on the floor, marked 6-feet apart from each other, helped direct customers where to stand at a safe distance from others. Every other dine-in table was closed in compliance with the 25 percent indoor capacity rule.
The rule, which also allows outdoor seating at restaurants with 6-foot space between tables, falls under the “Safe, Smart, Step-by-Step” plan to reopen Florida businesses. DeSantis announced the plan last week.
DeSantis previously issued a stay-at-home order April 1 and closed several non-essential businesses in the state to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. DeSantis also previously closed bars and limited restaurant service to drive-thru or delivery, prohibiting the option of dining in.
The stay-at-home order expired Monday morning.
Smaller eateries struggle with ‘dine-in’ option
Even though restaurant restrictions are easing up, some smaller eateries are choosing to still only provide carry-out or delivery service.
At Maryland, customers, who also donned face masks, were happy to walk inside the eatery again to order their favorite chicken dinners. With the small restaurant normally having lots of customers, the eatery decided to not re-open dine-in tables for patrons at this time as a safety precaution.
“It’s hard to have social distancing (here),” Maryland Manager Sheila Simmons said. “We’re too busy. We’ll reopen dine-in when everything is clear and restaurants can operate at full capacity.”
The chicken dinner eatery is still providing carry-out orders. Another restaurant, Pizza Mia, is not re-opening its indoor dine-in services for the same reason, Co-owner Lydia Schaeperkoetter said.
The pizza shop does have two small outdoor tables where customers can eat. The customers can order from a menu at a window at the restaurant, or by phone.
Customers weigh in on easing down restrictions
Retail employees wiped down carts before shoppers entered stores in west county near the Indian River Mall. Stores such as Bealls had marked spaces for customers to stand at a distance from each other while waiting in the check out line.
Other stores, like Office Depot and Michaels, limited the amount of customers allowed inside, per the 25 percent indoor capacity rule.
Patrons at Michaels, standing spaced apart from each other, waited in a line outside of the store. The shoppers had mixed feelings about the easing down of restrictions at restaurants and retail stores amid the coronavirus.
“I’m just not ready for it because of my age. This is probably the fourth time I’ve been out since March” customer Saundra Weber said. “I’m concerned about the virus.”
Patron Kathy Varney said she thinks it’s a little too soon to ease down restrictions.
“Everyone hasn’t been tested,” said Varney, 58, of Vero Beach. “You don’t know if people are asymptomatic, especially if they’re not wearing masks or gloves.”
Customer Jeannie Koomtz, 68, Vero Beach, said she hopes it wasn’t too soon for DeSantis to reopen indoor services at restaurants and retail stores.
“We need to get our economy back on track. However, are we moving too fast?” Koomtz asked. “I’m concerned about people traveling to Indian River County from St. Lucie and Brevard counties. Those counties have a larger number of cases.”
Shopper Dawn Stewart, 56, Vero Beach, said she’s not sure what to think.
“I think it might be too soon, but we have to try something,” Stewart said.
Photos by Nick Samuel