Local restaurants resume indoor seating
Alexandria restaurants start reopening inside dining.
A timer beeped: Mike Sieve’s five-minute reminder to stir a batch of chili at the Brass Lantern.
“Making chili and peeling boiled eggs,” Sieve said. “There’s a job that after 40 years, I still haven’t gotten used to.”
The Brass Lantern is one of many restaurants reopening their indoor seating this week. They’re working to ensure that every option listed on their menu is ready to be cooked when their doors open at 7 a.m. Friday, June 12.
Pike and Pint Grill opened Wednesday, June 10, the first day for indoor seating under the latest state-issued guidelines for businesses to resume amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“It almost feels like a normal day, reconnecting with guests we haven’t seen in a long time,” said Kent Kopp, owner of Pike and Pint. “The mood is very upbeat.”
The dining room of the Brass Lantern has been reset for nearly two months. There will be 80 seats made available under social distancing guidelines. Sieve said their numbers are flexible because of the mobility of the tables and chairs, but other restaurants aren’t so lucky.
“I know it’s a terrible disadvantage to smaller footprint restaurants that basically all of their seating is anchored,” Sieve said. “It’s going to be tough, and my heart breaks for them.”
Sieve said the tradition for Brass Lantern customers has been to stroll in and take the first seat they find, but they will now be required to check in with a staff member who will lead them to a spot.
“We’ll take that social distancing a step further,” Sieve said. “We just want people to be comfortable here. We want them to be confident in the job we can do for them.”
Kopp said they saw a considerable amount of customers for their first day of indoor seating at Pike and Pint, especially for a Wednesday afternoon.
“There are some that we haven’t seen for three months,” Kopp said. “It’s great to connect, and they have a smile on their face, too.”
According to their fire code, Pike and Pint can seat up to 260 people. Under the governor’s orders to seat at half the normal capacity and maintain social distancing, they can host up to 90 customers at this time, and there will be additional patio space available.
“It’s more than a job,” Sieve said. “It’s always been more than a job. It’s a fun way to work if you’re lucky enough to get a good clientele and a good restaurant. It’s a very social thing.”
The Brass Lantern staff kept a text message group going during the stay-at-home order, so employees could check on each other and keep in touch.
Everyone who was on the schedule when they closed is “anxiously anticipating” starting work again, according to Sieve. The Brass Lantern will have a small staffing reduction, since they won’t have as many tables to serve, people to help or food to make.
Kopp said they also lost a few staff members who were Alexandria Technical and Community College students moving home for the summer, but they hired a few new employees in their place to assist with flexibility in scheduling.
The atmosphere returns
Both Kopp and Sieve said they enjoyed seeing customers walk through their doors once more.
“The one thing I would say I wasn’t expecting today is just how good it feels to see some of your regulars that you haven’t seen in a long time,” Kopp said. “It was kind of off my radar. We were thinking more about the nuts and bolts to run the restaurant.”
One of the biggest changes with the indoor dining experience at the Brass Lantern will be the lack of a salad bar option. Sieve said there would be no way to safely monitor that yet, as the priority is to verify that equipment is functioning and shelves are stocked.
“We’re just happy as a clam to be having a chance to do what we do again,” Sieve said. “It means a lot.”