Restaurant owners have had to stay as light on their feet as ballerinas to keep guests coming in, given changing state dining guidelines.

“All this has been one pivot after another. We’re just trying to stay innovative,” said Rina Remmers at Englewood’s Nicola’s Italian Kitchen.


Shakespeare described “a custom more honour’d in the breach than the observance,” but we’d understand it as “a rule meant to be broken.”

With bars and restaurants reopening, many rules fall into that breach of interpretation.

According to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order reopening the state, “Appropriate social distancing requires ... keeping bar counters closed to seating.”

Not that we’re complaining, and not that you can’t manage to keep barstools safely 6 feet apart, but many local bar tops seem to be falling into a grey area. Within a few hours recently, agile bar hoppers could easily have sat at five different area bar counters. And no rule forbade standing up at any bar.

One manager explained, “It’s up to the bartender to control.”

How strict are the guidelines, exactly?

Nowhere in the executive order is it written, for instance, “Thou shalt not give guests silverware, condiment containers, plates or reusable menus. Servers shall wear a mask and gloves at all times.”

Much is left up to a restaurant’s discretion and desire to ensure customers’ confidence. Nevertheless, irate customers have taken to social media to mask-shame each other and servers. Sometimes you just can’t win.


A 25% indoor dining restriction was all it took for many to add outdoor seating, even before local counties officially blessed it.

Some, like Tom and Sandy Catalano at Isabella’s Bistro on Placida Road in Englewood, eked out 18 seats inside and out, and set up a two-seating nightly reservation system.

With takeout, Frank Oberheim was making only 10 to 15% of his normal sales. But the owner of 18-year-old Port Charlotte favorite Peter’s Family Restaurant (2200 Kings Highway) now plans to make do with 25% indoor seating for 30 people and might set up six outside tables in the space between Peter’s and the barber shop next door.

Mean Jeanne’s Riverside Restaurant (22637 Bayshore Road, Port Charlotte) faced a future with only nine inside diners until it boldly set up an outside pavilion with 22 more seats.

If there were an award for outdoor seating ingenuity, it would have to go to Eric Andreas at Port Charlotte’s Visani Restaurant & Comedy Theater. He opened his spacious rear parking lot to drive-in music and comedy shows, with carhops carrying dinner out to guests.


Owner Tina De Fazio waved cheerily at the camera, while daughter Nina Remmers voice-overed what her mom was doing in Nicola’s Italian Kitchen, 4343 S. Access Road, Englewood.

After closing for a month, Nicola’s had announced an innovative solution: a new line of prepackaged meals called Nicola’s Fresh Frozen — everything from meatballs, pizza, lasagna and sauce to chicken marsala, picatta and parm.

It made perfect sense. De Fazio used to ship frozen meals to her daughters in college — just to make sure they were eating right.

“I was very popular,” Remmers said, laughing.

To make the meals as foolproof as possible for the lamest of pk彩票 cooks, De Fazio took to video to demonstrate, step by step and with the charm of a natural network star, how to perfectly reheat her frozen chicken marsala.

Remmers explained, “We will start hot food takeout on May 15, at which time guests can picnic-style dine on our patio. We will not open for in-house dining until Phase 2.”

Send restaurant and bar news and recommendations to columnist Sue Wade at Average price ranges are $ = inexpensive (under $10), $$ = moderate ($11-$30), and $$$ = pricey (over $30), including tip and beverage.


Load comments