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Inside a south county restaurant's unique interpretation of dining in the COVID-19 era

"I'd much rather sit between two dividers than in a room with tables 6 feet away"
Credit: SLBJ

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Roberto Zanti was contemplating how to reopen his South County restaurant, Roberto's Trattoria.

Missouri guidelines said tables should be spaced according to social distancing guidelines, which encourage people to be six feet apart.

But Zanti had read that droplets could travel more than 6 feet from their source. One idea from an Amsterdam restaurant, of "personal quarantine greenhouses," had its appeal, but they seemed impractical to clean between users.

Dividers, however, could work, he said.

"I'd much rather sit between two dividers than in a room with tables 6 feet away," said Zanti, a lung cancer survivor.

Curtains, glass and plexiglass hung from the ceilings were all contemplated. Zanti, though, settled on portable dividers fashioned from plexiglass and wood, which matches other accents in the space.

He hired Chris Courtwright, of More for Less Remodeling, to construct 17 for the restaurant, which has three dining rooms. There are now 13 between tables, and another four at the bar.

And Zanti is satisfied with the aesthetics.

"After the virus is gone, I might keep them," he said. "They look that good."

At about $10,000, the innovation represents a major investment.

"I think I'm going to have an edge on the competition," Zanti said of the cost. "You have to put money into the business."

That's not a new lesson for the Italian restaurant, open since 1988 and in its current location, in the Concord Plaza shopping center, since 2006.

Zanti, who came here from Taranto, Italy, in 1986, said he's made many adjustments over the years, including adapting cuisine to the "American palette."

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