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Restaurants prepare to operate at 50 percent

Owners are excited to welcome more business and say customers are eager for it.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — Starting Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said restaurants can expand their indoor seating capacity to 50 percent, up from the current 25 percent. 

The announcement was welcome news for many restaurant owners.

“We were all so super excited. You know it gives us hope that we are moving in the right direction," Andrea Gonzmart, a co-owner of the Columbia Restaurant Group said.

Restauranteurs like Suzanne Perry of Datz Restaurant Group say there has been a significant amount of interest from diners for more seating, “We are definitely hitting that 25 percent capacity, and on Monday we will definitely hit the 50 percent capacity. People want to be out.”

For restaurants like Hawkers in St. Pete, which is opening dine-in services next week, the extra capacity gives them extra confidence.”

“Yea I think anytime you hear a government agency moving restrictions in a positive direction, it gives you confidence," Kaleb Harrell, the CEO and co-founder of Hawkers Asian Street Fare said.

Hawkers is still planning on opening at the initial 25 percent capacity, and gradually increasing. 

“I see this being a slow transition," Harrell said. "And that’s for everyone’s safety, of course, that’s the most important thing here. But it’s also for our team members, operationally. To get back into the groove.”

Like most restaurants, Hawkers was hit hard when COVID-19 closed them down. 

“Things started off really badly," Harrell said. "We dropped, just like everybody else, we dropped to of gosh, those early days of COVID were probably 75 percent decline in sales, 80 percent decline in sales.” 

Today, they are back to 50 percent sales in just takeout alone. 

“So this was a very big transition. We went from takeout and delivery being 15 percent of our business, to all of our business,” Harrell explained.

The Columbia restaurant group establishments will continue to open next week. “We were ready. So with it being 50 percent, it just makes that decision even more easier," Gonzmart said.

The Columbia was among location initially unable to open until June due to lack of outdoor seating, now that's changed. 

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