Disposable menus. Partitions between tables. Family-only dining. No more than 20 people per night. Less seating.

These are just some of the ideas being floated by restaurant professionals as they look toward a post-pandemic future. 

"I've owned Palmers for 32 years," said John Ingalls, referring to his 18 Elm St. restaurant. "I don't know what's going to happen after this, but I know one thing: It's not going to be the way it used to be."

Palmers, and most other businesses, have been shuttered since March 17 when Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency due to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. So far it had killed more than 2,700 people in Massachusetts as of Monday, and forced the shutdown of a large part of the economy.

Andover's downtown business district, which had nearly recovered from the lost sales suffered as a result of the September 2018 Columbia Gas disaster, was shut once again.

Originally the governor set a deadline in April for reopening the economy, then moved it to May 4, a date most people now say also was optimistic. Nonetheless, businesses throughout Andover remain hopeful that with time, the coronavirus pandemic will be brought under control and they will get back to work, albeit in different circumstances.

"The business community in Andover is resilient," said Ann Ormond, the town's director of Business, Arts and Culture. "They went through the gas crisis. They will persevere. They are a hardy group."

Another of the restaurants that made it through the gas crisis only to be launched into the pandemic is Yella Mediterranean Grille at 16 Post Office Ave.

Danielle Berdahn, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Carlo, said the immediate future is going to be difficult because there will be rules in place from state and local authorities seeking to limit contact between people.

As of now, she said business is down about 50 percent.

The restaurant has implemented a number of changes to remain open for takeout. Berdahn said no customers are allowed inside, so meals are delivered curbside. 

"Any contact surfaces, such as door knobs, are sanitized on the hour," she added.

Workers in the front of the house wear masks, while kitchen employees wear masks and gloves. Everyone on the waitstaff washes their hands between orders.

"We are going through a lot of hand lotion because everyone's hands are so dry," she laughed.

Whenever she is allowed to reopen, she's not sure what it's going to look like.

"Things change every day," she said, referring to information she gets from town and state officials.

The reopening, she added, "is not going to be straightforward."

One potential problem at Yella would be if the town required more room between tables.

"Spacing is really challenging for us," she said. "We have a limited seating capacity."

However, the restaurant does have outdoor space which could be utilized in a way that would meet social distancing guidelines.

"There are a lot of unknowns," she said. "All you can do now is prepare and do your best to set yourself up for success."

Select Board member Dan Koh said he's been impressed with the way businesses have innovated to keep going.

"I can't imagine the stress of operating in this environment," he said.

He pointed to Pazzo Pizza at 10 Main St., which had just opened when the state of emergency hit.

"They had a setup and they just started," he said. "They had a ton of logistical headaches just opening a new business. But then they had to shift to social distancing. ... Their ability to innovate has been impressive."

Koh said the future is unknown.

"People are eager to get back go normal," he said. "But they also respect why we're not back to normal. No one knows what the future holds but we in government have to be nimble. We have to be healthy and safe, but we also need to help businesses."

Ingalls agreed, adding that he hoped that the new rules, whatever they are, will allow for the profitable operation of his business.

"Once you get the rules, and you know what the Board of Health is going to expect, and you figure out how you're going to operate, it's not going to be the same. Hopefully, after two years, it will come back. We will make plans, once we find out the new rules, and see if it's sustainable. If they only limit you to 20 customers a night, you're going to have a problem," he said.

"It's a worry. It's a concern. We need some answers."

 

 

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