After running a few errands on Saturday afternoon, I drove by Green Truck Pub and immediately decided to pull into an on-street parking space.
I had hardly eaten all day, so Green Truck seemed like a perfect spot for lunch. I used my phone to order and pay online. I killed a few minutes by playing augmented reality games and then wandered to the front door just as my Trailer Park burger and fries were being brought outside.
Dining in restaurants has been a hugely important part of my life for the past 25 years, so the last five months have forced me to adjust.
But the impacts on my life have paled beside the consequences of the pandemic on restaurant owners, managers and other employees.
We owe a great deal of thanks to those folks. I certainly don’t blame restaurants if they choose to close for good right now, but I have been surprised by how many are moving ahead – and faring far better than I would have imagined.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, I regularly ordered takeout from Bull Street Taco and Squirrel’s Pizza, both of which made quick pivots in their business models. Both restaurants established efficient takeout procedures, started selling package alcohol, added outdoor seating and even managed to support charitable efforts.
Squirrel’s has since reopened its dining room, but Bull Street Taco continues with its modified takeout model while also adding tables along the sidewalk.
I have also had excellent meals in recent weeks from Nom Nom Poke Shop and The Black Rabbit. In both cases, I met a friend on the sidewalk, grabbed our meals and found comfortable spots in the shade in nearby parks.
While I know that restaurants are taking precautions to protect customers and employees, indoor dining can still be risky, so many of us will continue to support local restaurants with efficient takeout protocols.
My first pandemic table service came recently at Cha Bella, a farm-to-table restaurant that doesn’t get as much buzz as some other fine dining establishments around town.
Cha Bella’s gracious patio is set up perfectly for distancing. A large covered area provides protection from sun and rain. Fans make the experience comfortable even on a steamy summer evening.
I started my meal at Cha Bella with the grilled romaine salad, which is served with several perfect oysters, and finished with a magnificent duck entrée that isn’t typically on the menu.
As we head into the fall, I hope to explore the world of outdoor dining in Savannah more often. Some restaurants are so constrained by space that they can’t offer substantial outdoor seating, but some have expanded into sidewalks, tree lawns and parklets under new permitting processes established by Savannah city officials.
We will certainly be dealing with the pandemic for the remainder of 2020 and probably well into 2021, so I hope restaurateurs will continue to innovate with takeout and outdoor dining options.
Some establishments would benefit from street closures and greater collaboration with neighboring businesses.
Even though many restaurants seem to be weathering the economic downturn, at least so far, the pressures will worsen with each passing month.
Savannahians who love restaurants, especially locally owned ones, need to provide as much support as we can.
Bill Dawers writes the City Talk column for the Savannah Morning News.