Villages restaurants trying to adjust to reality of COVID-19 outbreak

Villages restaurants are scrambling to deal with the outbreak of the Coronavirus, with many pushing takeout or curbside services, closing dining rooms and canceling nightly entertainment.

Amid rumors that a government-mandate could come down to temporarily close dining rooms and bars and go to takeout services only – and with a case of COVID-19 confirmed in Lady Lake – many area restaurant owners are making minute-by-minute changes to keep their customers and staff protected and to keep their doors open in some fashion. They were huddling again late Monday afternoon after President Trump recommended avoiding groups of 10 more people for the foreseeable future.

The dining room area at Chick-fil-A in The Villages was roped off Monday after the eatery reacted to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in dealing with the Coronavirus.

Chick-fil-A, located at 730 N U.S. Hwy. 27/441, has followed a companywide mandate to temporarily close its dining room to “limit person-to-person contact.” The popular eatery is still operating its drive-thru service and is allowing customers to come into the restaurant or use the Chick-fil-A mobile app to place carryout orders. In addition, the dining room’s seats have been pushed together and roped off.

Starbucks, which has Villages locations in Lake Sumter Landing and on Wedgewood Lane, as well as a store on Hwy. 27/441 in Lady Lake, also temporarily has gone to a “to go” model at all of its locations in the United States and Canada. The change will be in effect for at least two weeks and will allow customers to order only by coming to the counter, using the drive-thru or through the mobile Starbucks app.

This sign was on the door at Chick-fil-A in The Villages on Monday to explain to customers how it was reacting to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Customers won’t be allowed to sit in the dining room or on the patio and will see modified condiment bars, possible changes in store hours and modified “order ahead” handoff areas. Some stores in high-social gathering areas such as malls and university campuses also may be temporarily shut down.

Panera Bread, with locations in Spanish Springs Town Square and Lake Sumter Landing, also is taking action by offering limited seating. The eateries will prohibit customers from getting travel refills or bringing in outside cups.

Tables and chairs were pulled from the main dining area at City Fire in Brownwood to allow social distancing among patrons.

City Fire, which has locations in Lake Sumter Landing and Brownwood, has temporarily suspended entertainment and dancing until the end of the month. The eateries also have implemented social distancing through placement of tables in the dining rooms and stools at the bars and has launched curbside and delivery services, which include larger meals for two or four people and items off the regular menu.

“We just felt like it was our responsibility to do something,” Owner Gina Buell said. “It is our responsibility to take care of our guests and our people. This is like nothing anyone has ever seen.”

Buell added that employees are continuing to thoroughly clean and sanitize the kitchen equipment, bars and high-traffic areas, such as door handles and tables.

“When this virus started making headlines, we took action,” Buell said.

A sign of the door of Starbucks alerted customers to changes at the Lake Sumter Landing eatery on Monday.

Allen Musikantow, owner/operator of the Cody’s Original Roadhouse restaurants in Lake Sumter Landing, Brownwood and the Mulberry Plaza, said he and his management team and staff constantly are brainstorming ways to take extra precautions. He said a person at each restaurant is dedicated to wiping down and sanitizing areas throughout the dining room and bar areas and the kitchen continues to be thoroughly sanitized.

Musikantow said he also is offering home delivery of food and takeout services. He added that he hopes the government doesn’t shut down restaurant dining rooms because he has 300 employees who have families and children.

“They can’t go without that paycheck,” he said.

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