“Last weekend was like a holiday weekend for us,” Shady Shack Grill and Flip Flop Bar manager Lindsey Smith said about opening for in-person dining on May 15. “I could tell that everyone was excited to get out and sit down to eat.”
The Shady Shack, located at Poplar Point Marine at 183 Hendricks Mill Rd, Bracey, Va. opened for the season mid-COVID 19 pandemic on April 10 for take out and delivery. The seasonal restaurant features an open dining area similar to a tropical, tiki-style beachfront bar and live entertainment most weekends.
“There is still no entertainment,” Smith said. “Our bands bring a significant crowd, so it would financially affect us slightly, but it is what it is, and we will just do what we have to do this summer, and hopefully next year, we’ll be back on track.”
The Shady Shack is currently operating at 50 percent capacity for dining in, and Smith does not think that will change in the next phase of reopening.
“I expect that if the numbers show that the amount of cases have gone up, that we might have to reduce seating,” She said. “That is, of course, just my opinion. I really don’t know.”
At 50 percent occupancy, the Shady Shack can host about 20 people at a time. The bar is closed and the tables are spaced far apart from one another. Most tables, the handrails, and the bar are speckled with bottles of hand sanitizer, spaced about six feet apart.
“We probably have 25 bottles of sanitizer,” Smith said.
Other safety measures the staff at the Shady Shack is taking include wear gloves and masks when in front of guests. The hostesses are wiping down all of the tables and chairs every hour and before and after guests sit down or get up. Refills are supplied in a new cup, rather than refilling at the tables from pitchers. There are no condiments on the tables, and single use paper menus are provided. Orders are served in red plastic baskets that are washed and sanitized, lined with butcher paper. The Shady Shack retail area, because of its small space, is also closed for now, and there is no seating at the bar.
“We can’t have the bar open because it is considered a social gathering area. We are still serving drinks, but at the tables only. Everybody that comes in has to be at a seat to be served; they cannot grab a beer and walk around,” Smith said.
Bartenders are still working, and a full bar is available along with the Shady Shack’s beer and wine selection.
Since reopening for dine-in, Smith said that take-out orders have been coming in at the same rate, but overall have increased significantly from previous years.
“We opened in April with four people on staff running everything,” Smith said. Now her staff is up to about 18 employees, and 75 percent have returned from previous years.
“I guess I was a little worried that we wouldn’t be as busy as we need to be, but our locals have really stepped up and supported us,” Smith said. “The weeks have been slow, but weekends have been unbelievable. Customers would come down to one of the ordering stations and then go back up and wait in their car.”
Smith said that most Shady Shack clientele are here on the weekends before Memorial Day and after Labor Day, but the season picks up through the week in between the holidays.
She said that she hasn’t had anyone on her staff that was hesitant to come back to work and that everyone understands the new safety rules, but they might be uncomfortable following through.
“Last week when it was 89 degrees and sunny and there wasn’t much of a breeze, and they had those masks on, it was extremely challenging,” Smith said. “But we know that we have to do what we have to do and honestly, I don’t see the masks changing for quite a while.”
Smith said that customers have been appreciative that the Shady Shack is open and that the staff is wearing their personal protective equipment, but only a handful of customers out of a couple hundred have worn masks themselves.
“We had about four people come down one day that wore masks,” she said. “They took them off to eat and drink and then put them back on before they left. I get the impression that most people are just over it and happy to be out. It is what it is.”
The restaurant has added about a dozen new items to the menu this year, but Smith said it has been a challenge keeping things in stock from the suppliers, like the prime rib steak burger and Brussels sprout pedals, which is one of the most popular items.
“Just recently, the cost of ground beef has tripled for us,” Smith said.
Restaurants operate on a thin margin, and with the additional single-use items, most are experiencing an increase in expenses, while trying to manage restricted dining capacities. Smith said that she is not worried about the extra cost right now, and they are going to do what they have to do to follow the rules and stay open.
“I’m looking forward to all of this being over, honestly. Of course, I am concerned with the health issues. I just hope we can find a cure and move on,” Smith said. “You kind of get used to things. We weren’t used to putting everything in to-go boxes a few weeks ago, and now some of my staff that was here is grabbing a to-go box instead of a red basket. I just look forward to finding a cure and things going back to somewhat normal.”
Shady Shack Grill and Flip Flop Bar is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The restaurant can be accessed by boat or car at Poplar Point Marine. For more information or to place an order, call 434-636-2175 or visit their Facebook page.