Patrons were seen enjoying dine-in delicacies at local restaurants on Monday, the first day that Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced restaurants could resume dine-in services as part of the Phase 1 reopening with restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Patrons were seen enjoying dine-in delicacies at local restaurants on Monday, May 11, the first day that Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced restaurants could resume dine-in services as part of the Phase 1 reopening with restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Lunch hour in Pine Bluff on Monday attracted masked patrons to Chilli’s Bar and Grill, bypassing the To-Go Order door, heading straight inside for their cuisine.

“We are opening our dining rooms in states where permitted and are safely ready to keep serving you - whether it's with us in person or in the comfort of your own home,” released Chili’s in an online statement.

For dine-in guests, Chili’s states they are seating safely and limiting seating based on local mandates and encouraging all guest to pay online or through their tabletop device to reduce physical touchpoints.

Employees are also required to wear a face mask covering both over their nose and mouth along with gloves, washing their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds, every 20 minutes and after touchpoints such as handling payment and between glove changes.

“As we transition to opening our dining rooms, our commitment to our guests, team members and community is to do so safely,” released Chili’s. “We are following official guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and following all government guidelines and mandates.”

Dine-in services in other restaurants still appeared restricted. Signs posted outside Chef Lee stated to wait inside your car and call to see if your food was ready for curbside pick-up. A community breakfast favorite, Shannon’s Restaurant on Dollarway Road, which is usually open 24 hours, 7 days a week, still remained closed.

Most fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Arby’s were still operating as drive-thru and pick-up only.

According to Restaurant Business Online, as states begin easing their restrictions on dine-in services at restaurants, fast-food chains are in no hurry, simply because many of their sales have recovered to nearly full status.

In the article, Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor said on the company’s first-quarter earnings that they were not in a rush to reopen dining rooms.

When residents of Southeast Arkansas were asked if they would be partaking in dine-in now that restrictions had been lifted, many said they would use alternative methods while others felt comfortable with the guidelines in place.

“I will continue to use other methods until we see how it goes with the restaurants,” said Katie Mahfouz.

“Delivery or curbside for right now,” said Rosary Jones.

Tiffany Ruszler said she and her co-workers went to Open Season for lunch and there was plenty of space and everyone was following the protocols.

Those protocols for dine-in service include:

• Restaurants must limit the number of customers to one-third of total capacity.

• Tables must be ten feet apart so that diners will be seated six feet away from diners at other tables.

• Patrons must wear a face-covering until the food or drink is served.

• Service may be declined to patrons not wearing masks.

• Groups must be 10 or fewer customers.

• Each employee who directly interacts with patrons must wear a face mask that completely covers the nose and mouth. Kitchen staff and others are encouraged to wear a mask.

• Each employee must wear gloves. Gloves should be changed between each customer, customer group, or task.

• Management must conduct a daily health screening of all employees before they enter the restaurant. An employee with a cough, sore throat, fever, or shortness of breath must not enter the restaurant.

• Service may be declined to patrons not wearing masks.

• Salad bars, buffets, and other self-serve features will remain closed.

• Tables, chairs, salt/pepper shakers, condiment containers, and napkin holders will be cleaned and disinfected after each customer.

• Bars and entertainment operations (such as live music, in-seat gaming devices, or arcades) are prohibited.

• Normal service of alcohol within the restaurant seating area is allowed.

• Restrooms should be disinfected frequently.

Chili’s said in a statement that their managers regularly check-in with team members to ensure that are healthy and safe to work and any employee that shows signs or symptoms related to COVID-19 is excluded from work until he or she is symptom free for at least 72 hours.

Reopening dining rooms could cause anxiety for some and for those who want to opt-out of the dine-in experience, Chili’s To Go and delivery is still available to enjoy from a distance.

“Our restaurants are still serving food for to-go and takeout and delivery,” said Chili’s in a statement. “We'll even provide contactless service through our Curbside process by placing your Chili's food directly in your trunk.”