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Diners enjoy a socially-distanced dinner at Pizza Byronz in Baton Rouge, where employees are masked. The state has upped capacity at restaurants to 75% as part of the states's Phase 3 reopening, but restaurant owners said the move will have little effect on their operations. Tables are still being kept 6 feet apart from each other, which limits the amount of seating to about half of capacity. 

The state moved back into Phase 3 of the coronavirus restrictions Wednesday, but most business owners said they don’t see it making much of an impact on their operations, despite guidelines being the loosest they’ve been in nearly a year.

“The difference is negligible,” said Brad Watts, who owns Kalurah Street Grill, Cecelia and The River Room. “But the positive component is perception. People think it’s safe to go back out.”

While restaurants are allowed to open to 75% of capacity in Phase 3, up from 50%, tables must still remain 6 feet apart. From a practical standpoint, that means most restaurants won’t be able to add extra seating.

Jason Lees, who co-owns Roux 61, said he doesn’t know how a restaurant can bump its seating up 25% and still keep tables socially distanced “unless you have an extremely large space.” The Bluebonnet Boulevard seafood restaurant is just under 10,000 square feet, making it one of the larger restaurants in the city.

“At least we’re moving forward and we know the next step is 100% capacity,” he said.

Louisiana to move to Phase 3 of coronavirus restrictions, bars allowed to open statewide

Elton Hyndman, chef and owner of Nino’s Italian, said he won’t change operations at the Bluebonnet Boulevard restaurant until he’s allowed to put tables closer together. “We’ve found a way to function at 50% capacity, with a limited staff and smaller menu,” he said. “We’re making it.”

But Sherie Thomas, who owns Epicenter, said the move back into Phase 3 has boosted interest in her Florida Boulevard events space. Thomas said she got 20 calls from potential clients Wednesday morning, normally she gets around eight.

“People are stir crazy and looking to get out of the house and have events again,” she said. She’s booked graduations and birthday parties in the upcoming weeks.

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That’s good news for Thomas. Since March 26, the Epicenter has hosted four events. The business was shut down until August and once it was allowed to open, people were leery of scheduling events. “Everyone was really terrified,” she said. “Staff, contractors. No one wanted to be around people.”

Now that cases are dropping off and coronavirus vaccines are starting to become more available, people are looking to schedule events. There’s still concern about the pandemic. Thomas said one client wanted to require guests to show their vaccine cards as proof they have been inoculated against the coronavirus.

While the move into Phase 3 allows for more people in restaurants, stores and event venues, the numbers didn’t change for some sectors. Casinos will still have their capacity capped at 50% along with gyms and fitness clubs.

Wade Duty, executive director of the Casino Association of Louisiana, said while the state’s riverboats and racinos want to get back to normal operations, they understand Gov. John Bel Edwards is trying to balance business and public health interests.

“But we have such a high regulatory oversight, from the Louisiana State Police, to gaming control, to the Attorney General’s office, we think some relief is appropriate,” he said.

Hayden Clark, owner of Iron Tribe Fitness, said holding capacity at 50% for his Acadian Thruway business won’t have much of an impact. Iron Tribe has a class-based concept, with customers going through workouts led by an instructor, instead of sharing weights and exercise machines. That’s allowed the business to continue operating normally.

“Even under our occupancy numbers, we’re only operating at 25%,” Clark said. Grids of tape have been put on the floor around Iron Tribe to make sure that customers stay in their designated space during workouts.

The number of members at Iron Tribe dipped in the few months during the spring of 2020 when all gyms were closed. Since then, Clark said the number of clients has actually increased. “Things could have been far worse, so we’re grateful where we are,” he said. “And we have the members to thank for that.”


Email Timothy Boone at tboone@theadvocate.com.