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Here's how restaurants could look different when they reopen

Bars, buffets and walk-in dining might all be a thing of the past

ST. LOUIS — While not much about the future is clear, the new Plexiglas guards at Clementine's Naughty & Nice Creamery on Macklind Avenue are perfectly see-through.

"It makes people feel really comfortable when they do want to come in and get an ice cream cone or pick up a pint,” said owner Tamara Keefe. “It's just one extra precaution that we're doing."

Along with the new guard around the cash register, neon-colored signage is posted around the shop reminding patrons to practice social distancing, and taped squares on the floor indicate 6-foot spaces in the line.

"Safety for my team, safety for our customers, that's really the most important thing,” said Keefe. “And then people will come back. People really need ice cream right now.”

While she’s keeping the shops open for curbside pickup right now, she’s planning for a future in which people can sit in the quaint and colorful ice cream shop once again.

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Changes like the ones she’s implemented are recommended in the National Restaurant Association's Re-Opening Guidance.

5 On Your Side reviewed the recommendations, focused on sanitation and separation. Concepts like sanitizing table condiments between seatings, rolled silverware instead of table presets, no lemons or unwrapped straws from drink stations and fresh paper menus for every person may go essentially unnoticed. 

But some advice could really change a restaurant’s atmosphere. The association recommended restaurants “update floor plans for common dining areas, redesigning seating arrangements to ensure at least 6 feet of separation between table setups.”

Buffets? Salad bars? Probably a thing of the past.

The crowded but cozy gathering space while you wait for your table? You might be asked to leave until you can be seated. Owners are also even being encouraged to “consider a reservations-only business model or call-ahead seating to better space diners.”

RELATED: When St. Louis area counties and cities plan to reopen

The shoulder-to-shoulder congregation at the bar waiting for their spirits? One day we might not even need to say “virtual” happy hour — it might just be implied.

Rather than asking for your check, you might hop online and pay from your phone. 

You might have to get your temperature taken at the front door — you might be waited on by someone wearing a mask.

Signage, they say, should be posted at the front entrance: nobody with symptoms should be permitted to enter.

“We're waiting on a big unknown, which is, how are the customers going to react to both what we do and what we don't do?” asked Dave Bailey, who owns a family of different restaurants around the city. “And then, are they even going to want to dine inside a restaurant right now anyway? There may be a whole bunch of people that do, and there will certainly be people that don't.”

Describing the communal tables at Rooster and the intimate bistro-style seating at Pop and Small Batch, Bailey said despite the varied culinary inspirations, the restaurants share a common thread.

 “They were all specifically designed to be convivial places where lots of people can be around each other together,” he said. “That's sort of thrown out the window.”

They've pivoted from dine-in restaurants to curbside provisions and meal kits for now. While he and his team consider how exactly they will change the structure of the restaurants to reopen, he said their heart will remain the same.

“We all got into this business because we love interacting with people, we love taking care of people,” he said. “We can still do the taking care of each other part, and what we have to do to physically make adjustments to the restaurants, you know, we will figure out how to do that.”

Hear more from restaurant owners about what dining out could look like when restaurants reopen by listening to the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast episode titled "Future reservations". The 5 On Your Side podcast is free wherever you get your podcasts.

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