From adding extra seating to developing restroom protocols, Indianapolis restaurants are working through myriad details as they prepare to welcome back their customers for outdoor-only dining.
The city’s restaurants will be allowed to resume dine-in service beginning Friday, though with only outdoor seating allowed.
Under city- and state-issued restrictions related to COVID-19, Indianapolis restaurants have been allowed to offer only take-out and delivery service since March 17. Restaurants in most Indiana counties were allowed to reopen with limited capacity and indoor seating on May 11, but Marion County is operating under tighter restrictions.
In an effort to help restaurants reopen, the city of Indianapolis announced this week it would shut down portions of five streets in downtown and Broad Ripple to give more space for expanded outdoor seating.
But reopening won’t be a simple process.
“We’re just trying to adapt because nothing’s easy at this point,” said Jade Sharpe, director of operations at Kilroy’s Bar n’ Grill. “Nobody’s got the answers, and everybody’s got the questions.”
Kilroy’s’ 201 S. Meridian St. location is adjacent to Georgia Street, which will close between Pennsylvania and Illinois streets. Broad Ripple Avenue will close between College Avenue and the Monon Trail, a stretch that includes the Kilroy’s at 831 Broad Ripple Ave.
The Broad Ripple restaurant reopened for curbside service last week, and it will open Friday for outdoor dining.
Kilroy’s plans to expand its existing Broad Ripple patio into a portion of the adjacent parking lot, which will give the restaurant 172 socially-distant outdoor seats.
“We are just doing basic tables and chairs with a fence around,” Sharpe said.
Because most of Kilroy’s indoor seating is bolted to the floor, the establishment rented tables and chairs for its expanded patio.
Patrons will be able to use the indoor restrooms, Sharpe said, though on Wednesday the restaurant was still working out protocols—how to route people through the restaurant and whether to limit restroom access to one person at a time.
For now, Sharpe said, Kilroy’s downtown location won’t reopen. The restaurant can’t add seating along Georgia Street for logistical reasons, Sharpe said, which means it can’t expand its existing patio.
“The kitchen is the furthest point of the restaurant to Georgia Street,” Sharpe said. “It (street seating) wouldn’t offer quality service.”
Kilroy’s is not the only restaurant that’s developing separate plans for each of its locations.
The Garden Table is doing the same thing with its two restaurants: 342 Massachusetts Ave. and 908 E. Westfield Blvd. in Broad Ripple. Both locations reopened for delivery and carryout service about three weeks ago, and they plan to launch outdoor dining Friday. Reopening will look a bit different at each site.
“Mass Ave and Broad Ripple are two totally different areas and two totally different animals,” said Greg Harden, who co-owns The Garden Table with his wife, Jessie, and their business partner, Sarah Simon.
For Mass Ave , The Garden Table has applied for a city permit that would allow it to add 34 outdoor seats to the sidewalk and parking spots in front of the building. Including its existing patio, that would bring its outdoor seating capacity to 50.
In Broad Ripple, Harden is seeking the city’s permission to add to the 16 outdoor seats The Garden Table already has. But he’s uncertain whether the city will approve this, since it would occupy public right-of-way outside of the designated Broad Ripple Avenue closure.
Harden said he’s already gotten his landlord’s permission to erect a tent in the parking lot, which would give him up to 35 or 40 seats behind the restaurant. But this area is not visible to employees from inside the restaurant, which poses a new challenge.
“In the front (outdoor seating area), we have a clear view of you and we’ve been operating like that for six years now in Broad Ripple, and we have a really good system,” Harden said.
On the city’s southeast side, Flashbacks Family Bar & Grille is looking at tailgating and borrowed seating as options.
The restaurant is at 6835 E. Southport Road, about two miles east of I-65 in Franklin Township.
Ted Pruitt, who owns Flashbacks with his wife, Marilyn, said he’s eager to reopen Friday. The restaurant has remained open for carryout since March, though sales have dropped precipitously recently.
“The last couple weeks has been miserable,” Pruitt said, speculating that he lost some business when restaurants in nearby Johnson County reopened last week.
The restaurant is in a strip shopping center, and its existing outdoor patio area is small—but it’s adjacent to a large parking lot.
Pruitt is seeking a permit to expand his patio, but until that happens he’s hoping customers will come back anyway. “Right now, I’m asking people if they’d like to tailgate out there (in the parking lot.)”
If the patio expansion is approved, the next step will be to find seating. Pruitt said some of his regular customers have offered to loan him tables and chairs if he needs them.
The owners of all three establishments say the weather is one of their biggest concerns. People won’t visit during inclement weather. And where will patrons go if it starts raining during their meals?
“This has been a very interesting time,” said Harden, of The Garden Table. “We’ve had to move quick and we’ve had to change and adapt and pivot into new things.”