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St. Louis County Restaurants Will Be Allowed To Resume Indoor Dining Next Week

File photo / David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Customers gather at Kirkwood sports bar and grill Ice & Fuel shortly after it reopened in May.

Updated at 2:40 p.m. with comments from St. Louis County restaurant owners

St. Louis County officials are easing some public health restrictions following weeks of declining coronavirus cases in the St. Louis region.

Beginning Monday, restaurants and bars in the county will be allowed to resume indoor dining at reduced occupancy levels, County Executive Sam Page said during a press briefing Wednesday morning.

Restaurants and bars will be limited to either 25% occupancy or the number of indoor diners who can sit at tables spaced six feet apart, whichever is lower. Banquet facilities will be able to host a maximum of 50 people.

Businesses will also be required to stop serving indoor diners by 10 p.m. and to collect the names and contact information of all patrons to help with contact tracing in the event of an outbreak.

Additionally, all staff members at restaurants and bars must wear a face mask while working, under the new rules.

The number of new coronavirus infections in St. Louis County has been moving “in the right direction,” Page said, which has allowed the health department to loosen restrictions on restaurants. “It’s also important for everyone to realize that indoor dining, even with these protocols, continues to pose substantial risk to patrons and employees alike,” he warned.

St. Louis County recorded an average of about 432 new cases per day over the past week, according to data compiled by the New York Times. That’s an 18% decrease from the average of 530 cases per day in the prior week.

The county health department will monitor COVID-19 data from surrounding hospitals, including ICU admissions and ventilator availability, when considering whether to tighten restrictions again, Page said.

‘We want to stay in business’

St. Louis County banned all indoor dining in mid-November, following a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Mohammed Qadadeh
Mohammed Qadadeh owns American Falafel on Delmar Boulevard in University City.

Since then, Mohammed Qadadeh, who owns American Falafel on Delmar Boulevard in University City, has waited anxiously for the restrictions to be lifted. Though Wednesday’s announcement came as a relief, he has been frustrated by the lack of a coordinated response by the city and county.

“I’m the last restaurant on the line demarcating the city and county,” Qadadeh said. “If you walk literally 50 feet, there’s a nice Thai restaurant where you can sit down and eat. I just wish the city and county could work together towards a unified strategy for attacking the virus. It really impacts us when they’re not together.”

His restaurant implemented a host of safety measures early in the pandemic, removing more than half of the indoor tables and training staff how to properly disinfect surfaces, but he feels it’s “completely ridiculous” to collect personal information from patrons for potential contact tracing.

“A lot of customers don’t want to give this information because they think it’s a privacy issue,” Qadadeh said, adding that it may be difficult for restaurants and bars to follow this rule.

Less than a block away, Aboud Al Hamid, owner of Ranoush, said he hopes the relaxed dining restrictions will encourage more patrons to visit — and help cash-strapped restaurants make it through the winter.

Despite the strict capacity limits, he added, it’s better than not having any customers at all.

“We’re going to follow whatever they say; we want to stay in business,” Al Hamid said. “Hopefully it’s going to be better. God knows.”

Aboud Al Hamid, owner of Ranoush, unloads french fries from his pickup truck after a grocery run on Dec. 4. If the restrictions last past January, he said he may have to consider closing.
File photo / Kayla Drake
St. Louis Public Radio.
Aboud Al Hamid, owner of Ranoush, unloads french fries from his pickup truck after a grocery run in December.

But for some small restaurants, resuming indoor dining at reduced capacity doesn’t make sense financially. With only 16 seats for indoor dining, Revel Kitchen, a fast-casual restaurant in Brentwood, will not be reopening its dining room to customers in the near future, said co-owner Simon Lusky.

Early in the pandemic, he and co-owner Angelica Lusky converted the dining room into a “ghost kitchen” for Motor Town Pizza, a new takeout-only restaurant serving Detroit-style pizza. “Rather than waiting for the restrictions to be lifted and hoping that people come back, we took that indoor space and created a new concept,” Simon Lusky said.

Though he feels the newly relaxed restrictions will help the St. Louis County restaurant industry as a whole, Lusky said, indoor dining will likely look different in the future.

“I'm in no rush to open back up whatsoever,” he said. “Even though restrictions will be lifted, I don’t think things will be back the way they were for quite some time.”

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

Shahla Farzan was a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. Before becoming a journalist, Shahla spent six years studying native bees, eventually earning her PhD in ecology from the University of California-Davis. Her work for St. Louis Public Radio on drug overdoses in Missouri prisons won a 2020 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award. 

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