Was Outdoor Dining the Panacea Restaurateurs Hoped For?

The patio/deck at 6Smith overlooking Lake Minnetonka in Wayzata has an advantage over landlocked patios.

The pristine sky was clear from pesky clouds that block the sunshine, and the lake, dotted with boaters revved up on nautical social distancing, was sparkling.

It felt good to be walking through a restaurant—even if it was off-limits—up the stairs and out onto the deck where we were seated at a hightop six-feet from the railing overlooking Lake Minnetonka. It was late afternoon on a Friday and parties waiting to be seated filled the lobby outside 6Smith, even though everyone had reservations.

That’s just the reality of a beautiful summer day in Wayzata, said Angel Luna, a partner in the popular restaurant with his father-in-law, Randy Stanley. Not to mention the first weekend of the COVID-19 ban lifted to allow patio dining. On June 10, restaurants can begin to offer inside seating at 50 percent capacity, according to the latest news on reopening the economy by Gov. Tim Walz.

When you're at 25 total guests, how do you ensure one group doesn't hunker down for the night? I had heard about at least one restaurant that placed an egg timer on the table when they seated guests to encourage table turns, but that’s not 6Smith’s style, Luna said, smiling behind his black mask.

Servers and management in masks wasn’t off-putting, as I had imagined. In fact, it’s become….normal.

"I’m glad to be back working," Lindsay, our server, told us.

Not everyone with a patio has a coveted lake view, nor were all restaurant owners with patios eager to start moving around the tables on the deck.

 Nolo’s Kitchen & Bar in the North Loop has room for four tables of two along the side of its building and then tables for four down a level in the space between its building and its next-door neighbor, Cuzzy’s, which is currently closed due to the pandemic. The makeshift patio is covered by a large rectangular, white tent awning.

On the evening I was there, it was hot—90+ degrees at 5:30—and windy. The building sheltered us from the heat, but not the wind. I had trouble keeping my salad from blowing off the plate. Not many North Loop restaurants were eager to flex their patio muscles the first week they were able to open for 25 or fewer guests. COVID-19, along with the unrest due to George Floyd's death may have discouraged al fresco dining. 

A sign greeted us at Nolo's host station, requesting that we limit our stay to 90 minutes, a more humane way than slapping down an egg timer. Instead of dealing with single-use menus or wiping down laminated ones, management chose to have an oversized QR code on the tables via which guests could download the menu using their cell phones. Since restaurants open at limited capacity June 10, maybe the rush to hire back staff, train and reboot needed that extra week to execute.

 

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