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Dining rooms slow to re-open

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Fast-food drive-thrus hopping, however

  • Dining rooms slow to re-open
    The Waffle House across from Zaxby’s was one of very few restaurants around town that had chosen to re-open its dining room earlier this week. CHRISTIAN MCKEARNEY/Staff

The Baldwin Bulletin set out Monday and went looking for a place to sit down and eat lunch.

Downtown was the first destination, but downtown was largely dead. There was a third-party delivery guy loading five large pizzas from The Brick into the backseat of his car. A young woman very casually crossed the Hancock/ Wayne intersection, distracted by her cell phone, which was proof that everything about “going out in public” isn’t always great and wonderful. Meanwhile, several people waited to get inside of Ace Hardware, which is maintaining its stricter social distancing policies. So far, The Local Yolkal is

So far, The Local Yolkal is the only downtown restaurant that’s chosen to re-open its dining room. That restaurant was closed on Monday, however, and it’s only open Wednesdays through Sundays, for the time being.

So, it was off to North Columbia Street. The fast-food drive-thrus were busy, a combination of people on their lunch breaks, people who are tired of cooking, as well as people who never enjoyed cooking in the first place. Chick-fil-A had one line snaking back into the deceleration lane of North Columbia, while a second line formed in the nextdoor Jet Foods parking lot. The drivethrus at Sonic and Zaxby’s also were slammed. Even Freddy’s, a newer fastfood place in town, had plenty of traffic.

In terms of places to sit down, however, it was either Burger King or Waffle House. A seat was taken in a booth at Waffle House. Laminated “SOCIAL DISTANCING” signs were strategically taped atop some of the tables. Out of the 10 booths, only four were available for diners. Only two seats at the bar were available, while the rest were taped off.

Three of the booths were occupied by customers around noon Monday. A diner at a nearby table was having a really loud speaker phone conversation for no apparent reason, further proof that “going out in public” isn’t always great and wonderful.

Each of the line cooks and waitresses wore face masks, and a laminated menu was brought to the table. None of the diners did, however, because that would be confusing. Also missing from the table were condiments, which now must be requested.

The overall experience satisfied the conditions of Gov. Brian Kemp’s April 23 executive order, with one exception. The bottle of hand sanitizer, sitting by the cash register, was empty and shooting blanks. Restaurants must “provide hand sanitizer for use by patrons, including contactless hand sanitizing stations where available,” according to one of the 39 stipulations laid out in the governor’s executive order.

Another stipulation was “no more than 10 patrons per 500 square feet.” The North Columbia Street Waffle House building, according to tax assessor’s records, is 1,886 square feet. Exactly how much of this qualifies as “public space” is not exactly certain. If the entire 1,886 square feet was taken into account, for whatever it’s worth, that would equal 37 customers.

Waffle House was not required to take customers’ temperatures at the front door, nor are other restaurants. This is a requirement for some other businesses, but not dining establishments.

The Local Yolkal, however, is choosing to scan the temperatures of customers. Restaurant owner Cliff Charnes posted a video on Facebook on Friday morning, and apparently someone wasn’t a big fan of the restaurant’s forehead thermometer.

“I just had my first customer come and refused to be temped,” Charnes said in the video. “We had to have a conversation, and he wasn’t real happy about that. But, I wanted to let (everyone) know that if you want to come in, expect to be temped.”