'We kind of have to change our identity’: Restaurants, bars make changes as they prepare to reopen once phase two begins

Restaurants, bars make changes as they prepare to reopen once phase two begins

CAROLINA BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - Over two months ago, Governor Roy Cooper made the call to close dining rooms in North Carolina to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But now, some restaurants and bars are itching to get back open and are working hard to do so.

SeaWitch Cafe and Tiki Bar is a popular restaurant and bar in Carolina Beach. They’re known for their nightlife entertainment, but for the past few months, they’ve completely shifted gear.

“Definitely more to go orders, but it still doesn’t ever compare for what it is for dine-in seating,” said Jenni Gilewicz. Her and her husband, Alex, own SeaWitch. Before closing their dining room back on March 16, they didn’t have too many to-go orders.

“Take out has been a challenge,” said Alex. “Not only have our sales decreased for the time being, but the costs have risen too.”

After two months of only doing take out orders, the couple is hopeful they can reopen their dining room for phase two. According to Gov. Cooper’s timeline, that could be as early as Friday, May 22. But with no plan to allow restaurants and bars to reopen to some capacity announced yet, it’s been tough for the Gilewicz’s, and other businesses, to know how to prepare.

“A less than 48-hour notice is just poor, poor leadership,” said Jenni.

But the couple is working as if they are going to be able to open Friday, until they hear otherwise. They are making big changes and putting plans in place that will allow their customers to follow health guidelines in their dining rooms.

“We kind of have to change our identity,” said Jenni. "Our stage area or dance floor is now extra seating that’s spaced out. We used to have big bands where it was crazy in here and now we’re kind of doing more duos and trios. Kind of a more laid back, chill atmosphere to not promote the big crowds and everybody all clumped up together.”

After letting most of their employees go, they have a full schedule of cooks, bartenders, and wait staff on for Memorial Day weekend.

“They know it’s up in the air too,” said Jenni. "We are ready to go for that and if it doesn’t, obviously, we’ll have to crazy down size.”

Plans are being made to help limit the transfer of the virus, or any other illness at that.

“We are having employees kind of stationed at each door,” said Jenni. “Whatever the capacity is, we’re having people kind of monitor that to definitely control it. We’re going to have sanitation stations at each door; outside of the rest rooms. All of our menus are going to be disposable. We’re using disposable silverware, disposable condiments. So everything to kind of make as least amount of contact for people as possible."

The couple also had to make the call on food and drinks. They needed to make the order Monday to make sure it would be shipped in time for Friday.

“We stocked up on our beer liquor and food and it’s a chance that we’re taking,” said Alex. "There are items that will go bad if not used. You want to try to get that best quality in four customers and we’re taking that chance now, but otherwise, we’re going to have to toss some of that product.”

WECT reached out to several local Cape Fear restaurants. Many of them are also preparing to reopen in the coming days.

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