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Monroe County eateries say lifted restrictions will help them move forward

Pocono Record logo Pocono Record 5/5/2021 Brian Myszkowski, Pocono Record
a store front at day: Derailed Taphouse on Crystal Street in East Stroudsburg on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Governor Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that all COVID-related mitigation restrictions could be lifted by May 31. Masking would still be required until at least 70% of the Pennsylvania population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. © Hannah Phillips Derailed Taphouse on Crystal Street in East Stroudsburg on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Governor Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that all COVID-related mitigation restrictions could be lifted by May 31. Masking would still be required until at least 70% of the Pennsylvania population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Poconos restaurateurs and industry workers are eagerly awaiting a major move forward as mitigation restrictions are set to be lifted this Memorial Day.

Following the announcement that temporary capacity limits on all businesses will be lifted at 12:01 a.m. May 31, restaurant industry owners are ready to get back to work at full steam.

Related: PA to lift business restrictions, mitigation efforts ahead of Memorial Day as vaccinations increase

Trip Ruvane, co-founder and owner of Barley Creek Brewing Company in Tannersville, and president of the northeast chapter of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said the announcement was welcome news after months of targeted regulations, quick shutdowns and large losses in the restaurant world.

“If this industry can back to a semblance of normalcy — and that means people are comfortable going out, there's a lot of demand to get out of the house and get back to some sort of, you know, take a deep breath and have some fun — I think that will solve a lot of the financial pressures that we’ve been under,” Ruvane said.

Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau President and CEO Chris Barrett pointed out that the announcement came just at the right time for areas like the Poconos, where restaurants usually tend to attract significant traffic in the summer. While last year yielded less business due to capacity limits and restrictions, 2021’s upcoming season may serve as a starting point for a rebound.

a sign in front of a building: Derailed Taphouse on Crystal Street in East Stroudsburg on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Governor Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that all COVID-related mitigation restrictions could be lifted by May 31. Masking would still be required until at least 70% of the Pennsylvania population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. © Hannah Phillips Derailed Taphouse on Crystal Street in East Stroudsburg on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Governor Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that all COVID-related mitigation restrictions could be lifted by May 31. Masking would still be required until at least 70% of the Pennsylvania population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The timing of the announcement is advantageous, because obviously, it's right before one of our heaviest seasons. So that's good news,” Barrett said. “And the fact that we also have a lot of time before that announcement – usually when the mandates were put in place, we were only given days to react to it – so from a planning perspective, it's very, very good.”

Eric Noone, owner of The Frogtown Chophouse in Cresco, said that it was a relief to hear that capacity can return to 100%, and that the return to some form of normality had begun.

“Now, finally, we do start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so we're taking steps forward,” Noone said.

Staffing and supply shortages

However, even with increased public interest in venturing out for a meal, Noone did note that restaurants would be faced with some challenges in the near future in order to accommodate their guests, as “it’s just irresponsible to pack the bar that seats up to 1,000 people because there are people that are going to be uncomfortable.”

Noone added that as restrictions ease up and the industry starts to get back into shape, customers should be patient as supply chain and staffing issues are addressed. But with one issue out of the way, he is hopeful that things will fall into place soon enough.

“I's a tough road, but it's nice to see the opening piece,” Noone said. “Now we're not struggling against the government shut down, we're just kind of struggling against these outlying pieces.”

One of the larger hurdles for restaurants include procuring enough staff for the upcoming summer season, an issue that has been on the minds of owners ever since unemployment benefits were extended and expanded during the pandemic.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword, because you’ve got 100% capacity, and you still have competition for workers until at least September,” Ruvane said. “And that’s because the unemployment is still as attractive as it is.”

Local travel: Visits to the Poconos and Pa. state parks soared during COVID. What comes next?

Ed Coyle, manager at Derailed Taphouse in East Stroudsburg, agreed that staffing is the top concern for the industry as the summer season approaches.

“It's hard to find staff, and even harder to find good staff. We have a great core here, but we want to build on that core as we increase our capacity,” Coyle said. “So we’re looking for servers, bartenders, support staff. We're a block and a half away from (East Stroudsburg University), and even we're having a hard time finding staff.”

According to Ruvane and Noone, some eateries in the Poconos are also facing difficulties obtaining supplies like poultry, alcoholic beverages and some other staples. This could create some issues as customers, eager to get out and enjoy themselves at their favorite eateries, may see some changes at their favorite spots.

A year's worth of innovation

On the other hand, many restaurants, bars, cafes and other locations in the Poconos have proven themselves to be versatile and adaptable throughout the pandemic. Menus have changed throughout the year depending upon what was available and when, and service options like delivery and curbside pickup have been added to locations that previously focused on sit-down dining.

Outdoor eating blossomed into a veritable industry of its own. Barley Creek even expanded their outdoor experience, adding the S’More Trailside Dining for additional options that may attract even more diners over the summer season.

Now, many of these adaptations may contribute to permanent features, and possibly increased traffic.

“And I think that's one of the better silver linings – that the resilience, the innovation, the vision of the hospitality leadership here, to be able to get us through this pandemic, and come out of it on the other side. It’s amazing to me,” Barrett said.

That type of ingenuity will be necessary moving forward, especially if staffing issues continue to affect the industry.

More: Restaurant Revitalization Fund offers NEPA eateries with additional assistance

Ruvane noted that Barley Creek was already exploring new methods to enhance their outdoor dining experience, including utilizing new ordering methods to keep customers safe and comfortable.

“We're spending a significant amount of money on outdoor dining, and that includes technology,” Ruvane said. “So you know, you'll be ordering from your cell phone, and you'll be going over and picking up directly from the bar, picking up directly from the food truck.”

Coyle noted that the East Stroudsburg Borough Council has been helpful throughout the pandemic, especially with setting up outdoor seating options.

“They allowed us to put tables in the street, so our capacity, we just moved outside rather than inside,” Coyle said, adding that at 100% capacity, Derailed will be able to seat 80 customers indoors and outdoors, whereas at the moment the limit is set at 50.

With a little luck, and perhaps with Mother Nature on their side — “If the weather holds up and cooperates, we’ll have a bang-up summer,” Coyle said — Pocono restaurants, bars, cafes and other eateries appear to be on track to a successful summer starting at the end of the month.

This article originally appeared on Pocono Record: Monroe County eateries say lifted restrictions will help them move forward

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