As businesses gradually reopen, restaurants consider the future of dining out

Being able to serve customers face-to-face may come with new challenges for restaurant owners

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)– The 12,796 restaurants around Wisconsin are eagerly awaiting the day when customers can dine in again. It appears the state has met five of the six gating criteria set by the state to enter Phase One of the Badger Bounce Back Plan, which would include reopening restaurants.

Chris Roderique knows a thing or two about food service. He owns Piggy’s and Uno Venti Pizzeria in La Crosse. But recently, he’s had a lot of questions about what his restaurants could look like once customers are allowed back in.

“Are we going to be 25% capacity? 50% [capacity]? Six foot distancing between tables? All those things need to be answered,” said Roderique.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is giving restaurants guidance on best practices. While the state has not said exactly what would be required, the guide says employes should wear a face covering when near others; physical barriers should be installed at cash registers, bars and host stands; and seating should be limited.

“It’s not like we’re reinventing the wheel. We always have sanitizer for the tables. All that stuff is in place,” Roderique said.

Some of the practices in the guide are second nature.

“The constant hand washing, the gloves– we’re already well trained on that,” Roderique said.

He’s hoping the state will give restaurants at least a week’s notice ahead of when customers could return. That’s not just so he can make the locations ready, but make sure they have enough food from their supplier.

“If all the restaurants in La Crosse County open back up at 25%, that’s a lot of people that’s going to be buying, produce, proteins, stuff like that,” Roderique said.

But how much should they buy? And how many employees do they need?

Roderique said he had to lay off about 60 employees when they had to close in March. He’s slowly rehired some staff back to fill carry out orders.

“[We’re] not going to flip the switch and it’s going to be packed,” Roderique said.

He understands not everyone will be comfortable dining out just yet. But they’ll be ready when they do.

“We have to really make sure that we’re dialed in so people feel comfortable dining out again,” Roderique said.

As the effects of the coronavirus spread across our community and put stressors on our area businesses, News 8 Now is continuing to showcase local restaurants that are working hard and are ready to serve you.

You can find out “What’s on the Menu” in our area by checking out our ‘Community Guide for Take-out or Delivery’. It’s a community service to help you navigate through the great restaurants in our area.

If you’re a local business owner, you can register your restaurant as a certified take-out and delivery provider. If you’re a customer,  you can find the latest list of restaurants offering their services on our website here.