More diners, longer waits at Md. restaurants after capacity limits lifted

The scene at Brewer’s Alley, in Frederick, Maryland, Friday evening. (Courtesy Jamie Ellis-Ade)

On Friday, statewide COVID-19 capacity limits lifted in Maryland for many businesses and venues, including restaurants. News of the decision appeared to bring more people out to eat, but it didn’t provide big bottom line boosts for a lot of restaurants because social distancing rules for tables that are still in effect didn’t result in many more spots for diners to sit.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t seat as many people as we could have, because of that 6-foot rule,” said Brandon Welch, the general manager at Galazio in La Plata.

That said, Welch added, the announcement and milder weather did help keep available seats inside and outside filled.

Kevin Schendel, the general manager of the Boatyard Bar and Grill in Annapolis, said he saw a lot more people coming out, but he gave more credit to the weather, because the lifting of capacity limits didn’t increase his capacity much.

“But hey — is it a positive step for a return to normal? Absolutely,” Schendel said.

Montgomery and Prince George’s counties chose not to completely lift capacity limits for restaurants.

At the Mad Chef Kitchen and Bar, in Ellicott City, restaurant manager Christian Smith said sales jumped 30% to 40% this weekend, and that both the easing of restrictions and the mild temperatures played a role in that spike.

“Unfortunately, our restaurant being as small as it is, there is not a lot of space for as many tables as we’d like,” Smith said.

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The announcement of the lifting of capacity limits by Gov. Larry Hogan last week led to some confusion. The managers said some people thought the news meant things were back to normal inside restaurants. That is not the case, because tables must remain spaced apart, diners must be seated and masks must always be worn except when customers are eating.

“I think the general public heard the headline and didn’t read the fine details,” said Schendel.

So the restaurant managers said there was a lot of explaining the situation to customers, and there were some longer wait times for tables.

“Saturday and Sunday especially, I think there were several times of the day where we had people waiting for a table for over an hour and a half, and that’s kind of people’s breaking point,” Schendel said.

Welch said while some people did end up leaving because of long wait times, most diners were patient and understanding.

“Everybody gets it; we’ve been through it for a year now,” Welch said.

Some of the managers also said that most diners kept up with the rule of only taking masks off while eating, but some appeared to let down their guards a little more with the lifting of capacity limits.

“People seemed a lot more comfortable,” Smith said.

With that, some staff found themselves reminding customers to mask up more than usual last weekend.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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