Restaurants in St. Louis and St. Louis County can open at 100% capacity under the “ReOpen STL” plan jointly announced May 3 by St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page. The plan increases restaurant capacity in the city and county from 50%, but it maintains the requirement to keep dining tables at least 6 feet apart.
Tom Schmidt, who operates Salt + Smoke in the Central West End, St. Louis Hills and the University City side of the Delmar Loop (and a fourth location in St. Charles), says expanding capacity to 100% is the “right call.”
“I think we’ve created really safe spaces for everybody and done the right thing here,” Schmidt says. “And I think it’s great that we’re getting more freedom to open up and operate and get more back to normal.”
While the Delmar Loop Salt + Smoke occupies a small footprint, the Central West End and St. Louis Hills locations can expand capacity while following the 6-foot rule by placing tables in spaces typically used for special events.
For other restaurants, however, the 6-feet restriction has rendered 100% capacity more theoretical than practical.
Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria in Rock Hill and Town and Country will keep its dining rooms at 50% capacity, owner Katie Collier says. The physical spaces cannot add more seats and continue to allow for 6 feet of social distancing.
“I mean, we might add a couple more barstools,” Collier says.
Under normal circumstances, Louie can pack as many as 88 diners into its narrow Clayton storefront. Owner Matt McGuire found the idea of the announcement exciting, but the details left him “wildly confused.”
“If we’re keeping everyone legitimately 6 feet apart, that certainly doesn’t put us at 100%,” he says. “I don’t know what restaurant that would put at 100% capacity.”
Qui Tran will not yet expand the capacity to 100% at Mai Lee, his family’s restaurant in Brentwood, or the two locations of Nudo House in Creve Coeur and the city side of the Delmar Loop. The restaurants do not have enough space to open fully and maintain the 6-feet rule — and even if Tran wanted to reopen them at 100% capacity, the restaurants lack enough staff to do so.
Tran says safety is the new hospitality.
“I want people to know we’re doing the right thing,” he says. “But then also they’re comfortable as well — you know, rather than having somebody all on top of them.”
Aaron Teitelbaum says his restaurants Herbie’s in Clayton and Kingside Diner in the Central West End and Clayton are at maximum capacity because of the 6-feet rule. Still, he is “thrilled” by the eased restrictions.
“I’m just happy there’s progress,” he says.
The restaurant owners Off the Menu contacted have seen the demand for indoor dining increase as the COVID-19 vaccines have become more widely available and the number of cases has dropped.
“We’ve seen lots of people in the last couple of weeks that we haven’t seen for well over a year,” Louie’s McGuire says.
These diners, he says, are “vaccinated, they’re out, they feel comfortable.”
At Katie’s, Collier says, “I would say in the last month, the vibe is completely different. It’s much more (that) people are ready to get out. They know about masks. They know the deal. … It’s just become, I think, an easier part of life.”
“It just feels like hope,” Teitelbaum says. “When I got my second vaccine shot, it felt like hope, and this feels like hope, and, you know, I love hope.”