As Covid-19 restrictions ease, many restaurants are looking to reopen their seating area for the first time in weeks.
While the return of dining-in is a beacon of hope, the return does not come without caution and the ever-present feeling of the unknown.
Matt Poirier, owner of the Hound, the Depot, and Sneak and Dawdle, refrained from immediately opening his restaurant, choosing to err on the side of caution.
Instead he, like several other restaurant owners, opted to wait some time in order to adjust the restaurant and give his employees some time to train.
“We are in the process of putting together training materials, we are changing our menu, for a projected second week of June opening for all the businesses,” said Poirier.
Sarah Gill, owner of Mama Mocha’s Coffee Emporium, has also kept her dine-in option closed. With only three staff members retained, she said feels "like I have worked twice as hard for half the pay.”
To Gill, the sacrifice is worth it to keep her business alive. To keep the beloved local coffee shop afloat, Gill faces the reality of needing to open back up more. However, to do this would mean putting some of the staff members who are immuno-compromised at risk, something Gill desperately wants to avoid.
Both Poirier and Gill also face the realistic threat of backlash from customers themselves.
“I have had people come inside and demand instant service, and in some cases I have had people yell at me for the simple fact that I was wearing a mask," she said. "We aren’t requiring that people wear masks, but some people walk in here with their pent-up aggression from being at home and being uncertain about their jobs, and take it out on the person trying to sell them a cup of coffee.”
While there may be some risk of backlash from customers, Gill said that, while many will focus on the negative, she wants to focus on the positive nature that the community has extended to her store.
“There was a man who came in here and bought $250 worth of gift cards and he told me he just wants to see us on the other side," she said. "I was just blown away."
Poirier noted that verbally assaulting an employee who doesn’t make the decisions is pointless, and asked for the community to be understanding toward their restaurants and service industry workers as they try to navigate unknown waters.
“I feel an obligation to protect both my customer and my employees, and we will do things in an overabundance of caution,” he said.
Both restaurant owners are offering alternative serving options but look forward to the day when they can seat people safely in their stores again.