Local restaurants welcome customers on first day of outdoor dining

Photos by Tom Rivers: Tillman’s Village Inn in Gaines put tables and chairs in the parking of the restaurant on Ridge Road today, the first day outdoor dining has been allowed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Pictured from left include Victoria Mortensen, manager; Mark Tillman, owner; and Samantha Tillman, manager.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 June 2020 at 8:33 pm

The Snack Shack on Main Street in Albion added a couple pub tables on the sidewalk.

It’s been a tough 10 weeks to be in the restaurant business. The restaurants have been limited to take-outs and deliveries.

Many have laid off employees, trying to cut costs and survive until better days.

Today, there was a little light and hope for restaurant operators. The state is now allowing outdoor dining for regions in phase 2. That includes Orleans County, which is considered in the Finger lakes Region.

There wasn’t much notice from the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office made the announcement on Wednesday afternoon that outdoor dining could start today.

Heather Drew, co-owner of The Snack Shack, added two small pub tables outside on the sidewalk for customers. One couple enjoyed dinner at one of the tables early this evening.

“They were so happy to be outside eating food,” Drew said. “It’s a return to a little normalcy. We feel good about and we look forward to doing more.”

Mark Tillman, owner of Tillman’s Village Inn, has four tables set up in the parking lot. He never would have imagined that scenario.

But with the inside of the restaurant closed off to the public since mid-March, he said people appreciate a chance to sit and eat their meals.

He noticed many customers would order take-out and they have their food in their cars. Last week he put a table outside for people to eat when he noticed several sitting in their cars. Tillman was advised by the Orleans County Health Department that the outdoor table wasn’t allowed.

But today is a new day and restaurants can have the tables outside as long as they are spaced six feet apart and the tables are frequently sanitized. The restaurants aren’t providing waitresses and waiters for the outdoor tables.

Tillman said he appreciates the state allowing outdoor tables, but he said the governor should give businesses more notice when there are significant changes.

“This was announced with no notice,” he said.

He looks forward to when customers can be welcomed back inside for meals. He hopes that announcement comes and gives businesses several days to be ready so they can line up staff and order product.

“Give us more notice to get our lives in order,” Tillman said.

He has been running the Village Inn with only two other people the past 10 weeks, managers Victoria Mortensen and Tillman’s daughter Samantha. The rest of the staff is eager to get back to work, Tillman said.

If Orleans and the Finger Lakes move to Phase 3, possibly next Friday, some limited inside dining would be allowed, but there are about a dozen pages of guidelines that need to be followed.

The New York State Restaurant Association pushed the governor to allow the outdoor dining in Phase 2, and not wait for that to be included in Phase 3.

“Governor Cuomo, his team and the Regional Control Rooms understand that the restaurant industry in New York is on the brink of collapse and this lifeline will undoubtedly be a huge help,” said Melissa Fleischut, the organization’s president and CEO. “We’re also promising to hold up our end of the bargain. NYSRA, our members and all restaurants in the state will follow stringent sanitation practices and social distancing to make our patrons feel comfortable and keep our diners and employees safe.”

Rudy’s Diner in Medina posted this photo on its Facebook page of customers enjoying a meal outside on tables.

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