Restaurants react to return to full dine-in capacity

Local News

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — After months of limited seating, Indiana restaurants will soon be able to return to full capacity. That means that restaurants and bars will be allowed to return to full capacity, but with the mask mandate in effect and social distancing still recommended, it might not mean much for business.

Restaurants have been slowly increasing dine-in capacity with Indiana’s Back on Track plan after they were forced to close their dining rooms earlier this year.

“Unfortunately, we did have to take some tables to make sure that we did have our customers at a safe space away from each other,” said Jen Rasler, Front of House Manager and Bartender for Trolley Steaks and Seafood.

As the state moves into Stage Five, Trolley and other restaurants can return to full capacity. Rasler said with that news, they will most likely add more tables.

“I think we definitely will try to get a few more tables out but we’re going to take it slow and make sure that we’re still taking precautions to make everyone feel comfortable,” said Rasler.

Restaurants will still need to exercise social distancing with their customers. Trolley is happy to have a good amount of square footage that allows them to keep distance as well as have an adequate amount of seating, but smaller eateries like Junk Ditch Brewing Company are not as lucky.

“In Stage Four and a Half we moved to 75 percent dining inside and we really couldn’t add any more tables at that point because six-foot space between has kind of kept us where we were, right around 50 percent,” said Daniel Campbell, Owner of Junk Ditch.

According to Campbell, Junk Ditch is lucky to have seen about 85 percent of its typical business during the pandemic. They were even able to expand to a food truck for Grace Kelly Baked Goods, another business in their Affine Hospitality Group family.

“We added our G-K pastry truck to our repertoire of businesses this season so we’ve actually growth through the pandemic which is great,” said Campbell. “We actually have more staff now than when we started.”

In Stage Five, Junk Ditch’s dining room will look the same as it has these past few months, but they are hoping to squeeze a couple of tables in on their patio.

“We’re looking to get a few, maybe sneaking a two-top here or there,” said Campbell. “That will allow more groups of diners to come in and increase our capacity slightly but moving into the winter with the patio closing it’s going to be a little less than a wash.”

The brewery is exploring options to keep some of their patio seating as we move into winter by adding partition off part of the patio and heaters. Campbell said it will most likely get them through November and December but they are unsure if it will be feasible through January and February.

Although the year has had its ups and downs, Campbell said what stuck out to him was how supportive the Fort Wayne community has been to locally owned businesses.

“I’ve been really tickled to see how much Fort Wayne has really come out for us,” said Campbell. “I know some restaurants are struggling and some are doing well and I would definitely put us in the ranks of those that are doing well.”

Rasler said Trolley has also seen support from their patrons and they hope that foot traffic will only improve as Hoosiers transition into Stage Five.

“We’re hoping now that we’re in Stage Five that people feel more comfortable and they’re willing to come out and celebrate their special occasions with us and just come in for a great dinner,” said Rasler.

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