Sit. Eat. Socialize… from a Distance 

North End TapHouse worker in Gulfport wearing mask pointing to Open sign

At the North End Tap House in the Courtyard, social distancing and PPE rules the day with co-owner Houston Gilbreath. Like many Gulfport establishments, they offer outdoor seating and take-out options. Photo courtesy of the North End Tap House.

On Monday, May 4, Florida began phase one of its reopening process. For restaurants this meant dining rooms were allowed to reopen at 25% capacity and outdoor seating could be maxed out as long as tables were six-feet apart and sat less than 10 people. Alcohol delivery and take-out is also allowed.  

Thank goodness it’s Florida and that we’ve had a stroke of good luck with the weather. 

But, what have local restaurants done to keep employees and customers safe with increased personal contact?

Gulfport restaurant owners say they are taking the safety of their employees and guests very seriously. The few restaurants that remained open have had CDC-recommended safety precautions set in place since the “Safer-at-Home” order was given by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday, April 3. Now, restaurants have gone even further to ensure a safe dining experience. 

“We were pondering for a while how to do this,” said Pia’s Trattoria owner Pia Maria Goff,  “meaning saving the business, without putting our staff, customers, our kids (who also work at the restaurant) and ourselves at risk.” 

This, said Goff, came down to making some hard choices. 

“Close the restaurant for good (because carry-out alone will not sustain the business),” said Goff,  “or open back up again and get used to a new way of operating a restaurant in a safe as possible manner.”

Pia’s Trattoria did reopen, on Mother’s Day, May 10. 

The list of added safety precautions at Pia’s is extensive, including many new sanitizing measures inside and outside the space, gloves and masks for staff, a “reservations only” policy to avoid gathering at the door, spaced out seating and single-use menus. The restaurant has closed the bar area “because there was no way to apply the six-foot distancing.”  

Goff noted that Pia’s “entire staff went through a thorough protocol training and health is monitored, temperature is taken every day from every employee.”

Goff and her crew are also still offering free take-out meals to Gulfport seniors daily, except Mondays, from 4 to 9 p.m. 

But Pia’s Trattoria isn’t the only Gulfport restaurant to make significant changes to their operation. 

Fortunato’s initially opened for takeout and delivery only, Thursday through Sunday. Once Phase one was in effect, management rearranged the patio to comply with social distancing guidelines and have kept indoor seating off limits. 

Fortunato’s staff is also equipped with masks, gloves and every item used is sanitized after each use including the seats and tables after each sitting. Paper menus are in use and are disposed of after each customer. 

Fortunato’s has also brought back their weekend entertainment. 

Other Gulfport establishments, including GulfPerk Coffee Bar, The Tiki Bar & Grill, O’ Maddy’s Bar and Grille, Stella’s and Neptune’s have also complied with CDC guidelines, creating safer environments for customers who choose to dine in at their establishments. 

Stella’s is offering their full breakfast and lunch menu, seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with outdoor seating only. In addition, Wednesday is First Responder Day where any police, fire fighters, EMTs or nurses get a free meal.   

“And we are most excited about ‘Nun-on-the-Run,’” said owner Barbara Banno. “Enjoy chef-prepared meals without the fuss of cooking” 

Stella’s “Nun-on-the-Run” features rotating weekly meal options, including vegetarian/vegan and gluten free options. 

On May 8, Backfin Blue posted on Facebook that, while their dining room is still closed, they invite people to “stop by the Gelato Stand for a treat! We will be open this weekend, Friday 5-9, Saturday 2-9 and Sunday 12-5.” They also posted that they are offering take-out-only Crab Cakes (cooked or uncooked), Corn and Crab Chowder on Saturdays from 2 to 9 p.m. and Prime Rib after 5 p.m. The restaurant encouraged folks to call ahead and pick up items on the front porch. 

The North End Tap House has posted that they are open 4 to 10 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, with spaced-out seating in the Art Village Courtyard, PPE for their workers and an updated menu. They also offer take-out or delivery online through their Facebook page.

On May 7,  John Riesebeck, owner of Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBG posted, “After long thought, with the size on our restaurant, I have decided to keep using our take out window (and free delivery) only for the time being. I am toying with trying the out door seating next weekend 5/16 and seeing how that works. We have trained our staff and with our current set up we are able to practice social distancing while providing quality products and keeping everyone safe. We will continue our free bag lunches from 12-2 wed-sun and our complimentary roll of toilet paper (while still available). We are looking forward to opening full speed when things and times are right for everyone.”

Caddy’s in Gulfport posted to Facebook on May 9: “We are happy to announce we have re-opened are following all COVID-19 government guidelines. Looking forward to seeing you soon.”

As this situation evolves, the Gabber encourages restaurant-goers to call the business before heading out to ask about safety measures, and especially to make reservations when possible. 

“With so many great people with different ideas we want to assure the community we are ready to safely serve you,” said owner and operator of GulfPerk Coffee Bar Michelle Bishop. “And if you’re not ready to venture out yet, we’ll be here for you when you are.”

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