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Dining out during COVID-19 is different experience
reopen chubby
Fatima, Flavia, and Al Arroyo look over the State of California’s restaurant guidelines Friday morning outside of the restaurant that they manage – Chubby’s Diner. The restaurant hopes to have all of the upgrades necessary to open safely within the next few weeks.

The morning after the City of Manteca announced that San Joaquin County had earned approval from the state to reopen in-restaurant dining, Fatima Arroyo’s phone at Chubby’s Diner rang non-stop.

And the question was always the same: “Can I come in and eat yet?”

The answer was almost always the same – “Almost.”

While dining in a restaurant is once again an option for people in San Joaquin County, meeting the hurdle of adhering to California’s stringent restaurant guidelines is an entirely different beast. It is something that the Arroyo family has been working through for two weeks as they try and figure out how to fit people safely into the restaurant while adhering to the different concerns of customers that will have varying levels of comfort when eating out again.

Coupling the variations in the customer base with new rules that will drastically reduce the number of available seats and the layout of the restaurant itself means that restauranteurs are going to have their hands full in an ever-changing environment.

“The goal is finding that balance where we’re able to take care of the customers that just want things to go back to normal and the customers that are a little hesitant to being out again – and that’s not something that we’ve figured out,” Fatima Arroyo said. “It’s a fluid situation and right now we’re doing what we can to keep our customers and our staff safe.

“But there’s definitely a lot more to it than just opening the doors and welcoming people back.”

One of the hurdles that breakfast restaurants like Chubby’s are going to face in the new reality are how to queue those who are waiting for a table.

Gone are the day of packing people into a tight waiting area until a table clears out, and how that will be handled with a restaurant the relies almost exclusively on a breakfast rush – especially on the weekends – will be a challenge.

While chain restaurants with paging systems that vibrate when a table is ready are perfectly suited for sending customers back out to their cars until it’s time to come inside, independent Mom-and-Pop restaurants that have been without business for two months might have a hard time covering that expense in addition to everything else that is required – from Plexiglas separating the dining area from serving areas to drastically cutting back the number of customers they can serve in a given day.

While Chubby’s has worked overtime to try and get word out to its customers on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram about the takeout options that they’re providing and the remote ordering that they’re providing to create a contactless experience, a number of customers still walked up on Friday morning hoping that the news about relaxed regulations meant that they could once again eat breakfast inside of booth – something that Al Arroyo says his family is working very hard to make possible.

Some restaurants were ready to move forward the day that they got the word that it was okay to reopen.

Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu proudly posted a message on social media advertising that he was once again having his breakfast at the Manteca Denny’s on Friday morning. The Mangy Moose Café was serving breakfast on Yosemite Avenue on Friday morning – posting online that they had done their best to comply with the guidelines that have been set forth.

Those looking to get their fill of retail shopping might soon have their chance as well.

While a number of Downtown Manteca shops were closed on Friday, they have the potential to reopen under the new guidelines laid out by the State of California.

Over on S. Main Street, Big 5 Sporting Goods had a steady stream of customers coming in to check and see what items had arrived in their weekly delivery – a busy time being the only sporting goods store in town.

According to Manager Tyler Brown, there haven’t been as many customers buying youth sports gear because of the pandemic, but business has been steady since the store opened up in early April after closing for two weeks when the shelter in place orders went into effect.

“We’re doing our best to enforce social distancing and everything we can to keep people safe,” said Brown, noting that the store requires everybody that enters to wear a mask and provides hand sanitizer at the door. “I feel bad for the youth teams that aren’t getting to play right now because we usually get quite a few people that come in around this time of year, but we’ve had a lot of people coming in to get home exercise equipment since the gyms are closed.”


To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.