Paper menus are given to customers to reduce the spread of germs. (Mariah Miller/Orange Appeal)
Now, months into our “new normal,” Orange County is having to adapt to dining out taking on a new meaning. While some restaurants were equipped for dining al fresco with patio seating, others were designed solely for an in-house experience. Award-winning, sister restaurants, Dublin 4 Gastro Pub and Wineworks for Everyone are two examples of such restaurants. Right here in Mission Viejo, the family-owned and -operated establishments were one of the many businesses tasked with the challenge of creating a safe outdoor space where customers could dine.
As a repeat customer myself, I can tell you I was not ready to give up their beautiful cocktails or their lamb and goat cheeseburger—I type as I drool over my keyboard. Thankfully, the Coyle family and staff acted quickly to ensure their numerous regulars wouldn’t have to go long without their favorites.
“The start of COVID-19 brought a lot of uncertainty. As a small business, there were so many immediate concerns and emotions like, ‘How long will this last?,’ ‘Is my family safe?,’ ‘Will we be able to survive financially to re-open?,” says Drew Coyle, restaurant manager.
Along with other restaurants at the beginning of this mess, Dublin and Wineworks transitioned to a full take-out model to try and limit the interactions with customers. Coyle attributes their regulars’ continued support during that time keeping them afloat until dining establishments were allowed to open with safety guidelines in place.
When news broke that restaurants would be allowed to open so long as seating distances were six feet apart and employees would wear protective gear, Coyle and his staff had to transition again. Dublin and Wineworks are set in small and intimate settings, so having to get rid of half the seating was a tough hit. Probably one of the biggest downsides was the loss of the bar that Coyle worked at himself. It wasn’t possible to keep a six-foot distance from anyone at the bar top, so that was closed completely, which was a disappointment for many who visited the bar specifically for the opportunity to speak with him and his other bartenders while they worked.
“As a bartender, I definitely miss the face-to-face interaction and conversation at the bar top. To build and create a cocktail, based on the sense and personality of a guest, is a huge part of mixology. The saying ‘A smile is worth a thousand words’ has never meant so much in these times within our industry. I miss that,” he says.
This most recent shift has shown us the true grit and innovation of the service industry. In early July, Gavin Newsom announced that all indoor dining would need to be immediately ceased, which had restaurants all over scrambling, yet again, to transition to patio/outdoor dining only.
“We hear of all closures and guidelines no earlier than the general public does. Only a few hours before opening, we had heard we were no longer able to accommodate our reservations inside once again, in which we had to build a fully serviceable parking lot patio. Our staff made this happen quickly and safely without question,” says Coyle. He goes on to say, “Our outside patio was made by laying turf in our parking lot, allowing us to have an occupancy of 65 guests—half of our usual. We built furniture, umbrellas, planted flowers, and hung stringing lights to create an atmosphere where you could enjoy, even in a parking lot.”
In total, these renovations cost the family $3,740 with the costliest item being the grass turf. The expenses, while difficult, weren’t the only challenge with outdoor dining. The July heat brought its own destruction. Tables that were used inside actually began to slowly warp in the hot sun and Coyle was forced to buy furniture made for weathering the elements.
I took my mom to the now combined Dublin and Wineworks parking lot for drinks and appetizers one night and the outdoor dining experience was no different than the usual fabulous food and service we are used to. Eating in the open air made us both feel more at ease and our server wore protective gear and was doing everything by the book when it came to cleaning tables and keeping her distance from us and other customers. The décor made us forget we were in a parking lot and it kept the same classy impression as it always has.
Coyle and his staff keep a radiantly positive attitude during these constant transitions and are clearly ready to face anymore coming their way.
Coyle commends his staff, saying, “From learning, training, and adapting to these guidelines, I truly could not applaud our entire staff enough in this conversation. Almost five weeks later, they are continuing to provide a safe and healthy dining experience. We are all in this together. Health, love, and happiness overcome all.”