Tuesday, January 26, 2021
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How Some Local Restaurants Are Adapting and Taking Precautions Amid COVID-19 Restrictions

While social distancing and COVID-19 restrictions require restaurants around State College and Centre County to close for eat-in dining, most now offer takeout, curbside or delivery service. So, what precautions are local restaurants taking to limit interaction and contact between employees and customers alike when diners take advantage of these options? It turns out, they’re doing quite a lot.

The Overlook Grill, which opened in January at the top of Mount Nittany in Centre Hall, is now offering pre-order takeout service, where all orders must be placed ahead of time by phone or email. Pick-ups are then staggered, with one pick-up per every five minutes, which co-owner Kit Henshaw of the restaurant says, “allows downtime between to clean and little to no line up of customers… All pickups occur on our outer deck or our covered porch, depending on weather. It is open air and spacious, so there is plenty of room for people to stay away from others (and the expansive view has a tendency to provide a little moment of peace for people as they visit).” 

For customers who do happen to arrive to pick up their meals at the same time, the restaurant has used tape to mark safe standing distances. The pickup station itself is a wide surface with disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer provided. All orders are pre-paid and receipts are ready for signing upon a customer’s arrival. 

“Upon signing, the paperwork and pen used are dropped in a box, which we put aside for several days, before cleaning and processing,” adds Henshaw.

The Overlook Grill, 559 N Pennsylvania Ave., Centre Hall, offers pre-ordered takeout with staggered pickup times to ensure physical distancing during the pandemic. Photo provided.

Extra sanitation and cleaning procedures seem to be the new norm for most restaurants around the county. Bryant Martin, owner at Sowers Harvest Cafe, 421. E Beaver Ave., says this helps protect both customers and the restaurant’s staff. 

“We have a frequent schedule for sanitizing touch points in the kitchen and the dining area,” he says. ”We also keep our team up to speed with the evolving understanding of COVID-19 and protocol for restaurants, as we believe that having our team armed with the seriousness of the virus will help them not only do well at prevention when they are working, but also in their personal lives.”

As part of their efforts, the team is no longer allowing guests to self-serve coffee or water and is no longer accepting cash, including cash tips. The kitchen and delivery teams wear face masks  and no more than 10 guests are permitted in the cafe at one time.

Martin says the restaurant — which is offering takeout, curbside and delivery — has had no problem with guests not following the newly implemented guidelines.

“We have signs posted everywhere… Also, we include this info on our website and on all our social posts. Thankfully, we have found our guests really being sensitive to this, so it has not been a problem.”

Sowers Harvest Cafe, 421 E. Beaver Ave., takes a number of precautions for takeout, curbside and delivery service. Photo provided

Hospitality Asset Management Company (HAMCO) oversees several State College area restaurants, including Gigi’s Southern Table, Mercato Mio and Grace Restaurant. According to HAMCO digital marketing manager Chelsea Newsock, Gigi’s Southern Table, 2080 Cato Avenue, and Mercato Mio, 1221 E. College Ave., have limited staff in the restaurants at any one time and all staff members are required to wear masks, as well as gloves during food preparation, cooking, packaging and delivery during curbside service. 

Staff are also required to wash hands before packaging any orders and sterilize the food prep area, and hand sanitizer is used before delivering an order to a waiting vehicle and immediately after delivering that order.

Some restaurants are finding that the need for social distancing is changing not only the way they approach serving their customers, but their entire way of doing service. For example, Grace Restaurant, located in the Carnegie Inn, is typically a fine-dining restaurant with an upscale atmosphere and a refined menu, but is now offering curbside service on Fridays and Saturdays only, with specialized, weekly menus consisting of family-style meals. Meals for four include items such as braised chicken in a red wine sauce with mascarpone cheese risotto.

The Overlook Grill is likewise offering a separate take-out menu, with meals prepared for groups of two or more. Dinner entrees include chicken, salmon and snapper and come with sides, bread and cookies.

In Bellefonte, David Letterman, owner of Bonfatto’s Italian Market, has expanded the market and cafe’s offerings to meet the needs of his customer base at this time.

“Bonfatto’s Italian Market and Corner Cafe has adapted to meet the needs of our customers and has safety of our food, employees and customers forefront in our mind. We have expanded our grocery and deli selection to provide the essentials you need — milk, bread, eggs, butter, etcetera — and the comfort you deserve — imported pasta, Italian deli meats, Tiramisu, cannoli, olive oils…” he says.

Customers can place orders by phone or online. 

“People stay in their cars and call us to let us know they have arrived. We take their order out with new gloves every time. No pens needed. We enter in their card their card info over the phone,” says Letterman.