(May 22, 2020) Ocean City restaurants and bars prepare to reopen for sit-down dining in the coming weeks after Maryland enters the first phase of the Roadmap to Recovery.

Employees are being trained for new protocols for both indoor and outdoor seating accommodations in accordance with local and state authorities as well as guidance from national health organizations.

The Worcester County Commissioners voted unanimously on May 14 to instruct the Worcester County Health Department to draft a set of guidelines for outdoor seating. Then after that, the commissioners plan to send a letter to the governor concerning outdoor seating.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan spoke with the governor’s chief of staff on May 15 to have some of the restrictions on restaurants relaxed before Phase II. However, the governor declined to make any changes at that time.

The mayor since followed up with a letter to the governor and his staff that focuses on allowing outdoor seating at restaurants and bars effective this Friday to meet demand during Memorial Day Weekend.

He asked for permission to allow restaurants without outdoor seating to create seating in the parking lots or other areas of the premises without exceeding 50 percent of the establishment’s lowest capacity load on the certificate of occupancy. This would require local zoning approval.

Before offering dine-in service, the U.S. Food and Drug Association states that restaurants should have signs posted about how to prevent the spread of coronavirus and daily protective measures to reduce exposure.

At the entrance of Fish Tales on 22nd Street, bayside, customers are notified about a “no mask, no service” protocol, said owner Shawn Harman.

Fish Tales has made national headlines after unveiling custom-made social distancing tables to keep customers six feet apart within the venue and its parking lot.

Harman’s wife, Donna, and her cousin, Aaron Cermak of Revolution Event Design and Production in Baltimore, developed the idea. The response on social media and vast news coverage have been overwhelming, Harman said.

“They thought it was going to get some buzz, you know, maybe regionally but nothing like this,” Harman said.

Other businesses have also contacted the Fish Tales owner about the tables.

“We’ve immediately sent them toward Revolution because that’s the manufacturer of the table,” he said.

Revolution is selling non-customized tables for $400 or $500 with a logo. The Ocean City restaurant currently has 10 tables created with aluminum bases, tractor inner tubes and composite material. Customers will stand inside the tables, placing their food and drinks on the built-in bar top.

“It’s like an adult-sized baby walker,” Harman said.

The tables will be sanitized between uses with EPA-registered disinfectants. Parts of the tables can be disassembled for thorough disinfecting.

In addition, the restaurant will reduce indoor seating to space out the tables at a minimum of six feet. To further practice social distancing, Fish Tales will offer curbside service, where customers order from one window and pick up at another.

“We also will come to the boat slip when you pull up,” Harman said. “It’s almost like Sonic by water if you want to look at it that way.”

Carryout hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Seacrets on 49th Street will also encourage carryout throughout the summer to accommodate with limited occupancy within the establishment.

“I think it’s going to be in big need and high demand,” General Manager Scott Studds said. “So we actually have done some different things with our to-go containers we’re offering. We’ve got some new signage out on the road, saying our phone number and the website to go on and do your online ordering.”

The new online ordering and pickup process for carryout limits contact between customers and employees at Seacrets.

“As far as right now with our carryout, people are using the touch pads on their own,” Studds said. “We’re not taking their cards. They’re doing it on their own, and then we disinfect the keypad afterwards.”

Seacrets is open for carryout from 12-8 p.m. daily.

On May 15, Marina Deck on Dorchester Street opened, offering its full menu and bar carryout. The restaurant’s hours are 12-8 p.m. daily.

Dennis Kalchthaler, owner of Marina Deck, said his restaurant has suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent slower business.

“This restaurant’s been here since the late ’40s and, who knows, it might not be here anymore,” he said

However, restaurants cannot survive exclusively on carryout and curbside service, said Jeremy Brink, owner of Ocean 13 Restaurant on Atlantic Avenue.

“There’s just no way, but if we could encourage a lot of people to continue that, obviously we will,” Brink said.

Ocean 13 is open for carryout Fridays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Customers can call ahead or stop in to order.

Restaurant owners had hoped to open Memorial Weekend for outdoor seating, which reduces the risk of exposure because warmer temperatures and sunlight decrease the time the virus survives on surfaces, according to the CDC.

During the Ocean City council meeting on Monday, Councilwoman Mary Knight supported reopening restaurants for outdoor seating.

“I read a study this weekend from Harvard University, and outside is one of the lowest risk places you can be,” Knight said. “So, I’ve been in favor of the outdoor dining, you know, for a long time … and, [Council Member John Gehrig] made a great point about the Boardwalk. I was up there Saturday, and it was crowded because people did not have any place else to go.”

On May 13, Brink addressed a public letter to Meehan, Ocean City council members, District 38 Sen. Mary Beth Carozza and Delegates Wayne Hartman and Charles Otto, the Worcester County Commissioners, the Board of Liquor License commissioners and Worcester County Health Department Health Officer Rebecca Jones, requesting a leniency on restrictions on Ocean City restaurants.

Brink outlined three requests in the letter that would alleviate some challenges faced by bar and restaurant owners: amending the open container ordinance, amending noise ordinances during an agreed-upon timespan and utilizing an establishment’s entire property for outdoor service, which includes sidewalks and parking lots.

Brink also asked other local business owners to provide feedback to his requests on social media.

As a local musician, Brink hopes to help other entertainers who have been negatively affected by restaurants and bars being closed.

He desires to temporarily alter the liquor laws for the summer due to many entertainers “seriously hurting with no reprieve in sight because there is nowhere for them to safely play,” he said.

“It would be really great if we could get it changed that these entertainers could play outside, socially distanced and on the porches of some establishments or in the parking lots of some establishments,” Brink added. “That allows us to safely have people outside, enjoying food and drink, and then it also lets us save the local entertainment industry.”

Fortunately, Seacrets and Fish Tales have expansive outdoor seating, so customers will not be enclosed inside when the restaurants reopen.

Brink said Ocean 13 will also promote outdoor seating. The restaurant’s management plans to restrict indoor seating to 50 percent capacity or less. Indoor tables will be spaced to comply with social distancing standards.

In compliance with one of the National Restaurant Association guidelines, the Clarion Hotel on 101st Street has implemented floor stickers in high traffic areas of the restaurant to enforce a separation of six feet between diners.

The CDC’s new advisory tool lists other practices to help restaurants and bars reopen safely during the covid-19 pandemic.

The chart’s guidelines include requiring employees to wear face masks and other PPE, increasing spacing or adding partitions at establishments to promote social distancing and enhancing the process and frequency of cleaning, sanitization and disinfection.

The management at Fish Tales Bait & Tackle will permit only six people in the shop at a time and require all customers and employees to wear masks.

The staff at Seacrets has built plexiglass dividers for tables to enforce social distancing. Studds added that there will be numerous service areas to avoid employees gathering in one location during shifts.

The management will also insist employees wear face masks “in the public areas or in any areas with a high contingency of other employees,” he said. Similarly, the Clarion Hotel has added a partition at the hostess desk in the restaurant and will require employees to wear face masks and gloves.

In addition to a more intense cleaning schedule, the CDC advises restaurants to use EPA-approved disinfectants for use against the coronavirus to properly disinfect high-touch objects such as tables, doorknobs, point of sale systems, pens and check presenters.

“We are using a solution called Peroxide Multi Surface Cleaner and Disinfectant,” said Phil Spinuzza, director of food and beverages at the Clarion Hotel. “That’s what we’re able to get our hands on right now. We are getting this from Ecolab, and it was part of a list found on the CDC’s website with EPA-friendly disinfectants and cleaners.”

Spinuzza added that it has been challenging to obtain disinfecting products as most are being allocated to frontline workers.

The FDA advises restaurants to remove self-serve options like buffets and table condiments as well as porous materials to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Clarion Hotel has made dining adjustments accordingly for the 2020 summer season.

“If guidelines change, we will reevaluate, but as of right now we do not plan on opening our all-you-can-eat prime rib and seafood buffet or our breakfast buffets we have been offering,” Spinuzza said.

The mayor’s appeal to Gov. Larry Hogan requires hand sanitizing stations with at least 60 percent alcohol to be accessible for customers and employees at the entrance and exit of all restaurants and bars.

Most restaurants preparing to reopen for dine-in service have already set up stations at doorways or have sanitizer upon request.

Since mid-April, Seacrets has been producing hand sanitizer at its distillery for health care workers and other essential employees. Now, the general public can purchase the hand sanitizer at Seacrets’ liquor store for $30 a gallon.

Lastly, the National Restaurant Association urges restaurants with paper menus to discard the menus after each customer use. Otherwise, reusable menus can be cleaned and sanitized.

Currently, Ocean 13 uses paper menus and Brink plans to continue that practice. Paper menus reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus because they are single-use products.

“But there’s also the other side that leads to a huge amount of waste,” Brink said. “We want to do what’s safest for our customers. So, you know, eventually could we get back to a normal menu? If we can guarantee a safe passing back and forth, absolutely.”

Brink said he and his staff have also discussed temporarily using disposable plates and silverware.

Upon reopening for sit-down dining, Ocean 13 will operate with a smaller staff. All employees will be required to wear gloves and face masks. Brink added that the staff will try to be as much hands-off as possible to limit contact with customers.

“We will absolutely adhere ‘to a T’ all guidelines that are set forth because we want to take care of our employees and our customers equally,” Brink said. “We want everybody to be safe but be able to come enjoy all that Ocean City and Ocean 13 has to offer.”

Ocean City restaurant and bar management teams await further guidelines from the local and state authorities. Meanwhile, they will continue to educate employees about the new safety measures and prioritize the wellbeing of their customers.

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our guests,” Spinuzza said. “That’s our utmost priority, and we are thoroughly educating all of our staff on the new procedures that are our new policies in regards to disinfecting, proper sanitation and proper handling of food and beverage products.”

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