MIAMI (WSVN) - Restaurants across Miami-Dade County have reopened their indoor dining areas, months after a spike in COVID-19 cases led local leaders to order them closed.

Starting Monday, restaurants like Mr. Baguette in Wynwood began welcoming customers back inside to dine in their businesses.

​”Precaution and safety is our number one priority,” said Anthony Zapata, Mr. Baguette’s marketing manager.

7News cameras caught a busy dining room in action at a restaurant in Brickell, a sight not seen in the county for months.

As a nutritionist, diner Kenrese Carter is all about food. She said she’s glad dining rooms are back open in Miami-Dade.

“Everybody’s wearing their masks. I have mine, but now-now because I’m having a sip here,” she said. “I think people are making an effort to ensure that they’re safe in terms of how they prepare their food and how they interact with us.”

Since the start of the pandemic, restaurants in South Florida have been fighting to stay in business. First they were forced to close their dining rooms. Months later, they were allowed to reopen at a reduced capacity.

Back in July, the county shut down dining rooms once again as a response to the rapidly rising number of coronavirus cases.

“Compared to our neighbors, some of our neighbors have full outdoor capacity,” said Zapata. “We’re not blessed with that privilege, but we’re making it work. We’re doing what we can.”

“It’s been such a roller coaster ride,” said Rocco Carulli, the owner of R House Wynwood.

“It’s tough. Everybody knows summer in Miami is kind of a dog,” said Jeff Grosser, managing partner at Buya Izakaya in Wynwood.

Mr. Baguette first opened its doors in February. Since then, Zapata said, it’s been a difficult journey, to say the least.

“Picture this: opening right before a pandemic, getting a brand-new restaurant started up,” he said, “so, in those simple words, it was tough.”

But as things have been steadily moving in the right direction in regards to the pandemic, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has decided to loosen restrictions and reopen indoor dining areas.

“It’s something we’ve been waiting for, for a very long time,” said David Allen, the manager of Pink Taco along Ocean Drive in Miami Beach.

However, there are still some rules:

  • Only 50% capacity is allowed inside.
  • A maximum of six people to a table.
  • Face masks need to stay on except when eating or drinking.
  • Doors and windows should remain open.
  • Air conditioning needs to stay on at all times.​

Even for places like On Ocean 7 Cafe that has plenty of outdoor space for use, these changes will make a difference.

“Especially when we have a little rain, some of the guests, they don’t wanna get wet, of course,” said manager Jose Ormaza. “We do not have many tables inside, but anything will help at this time.”

Carulli said they made major modifications to their outdoor space to help them stay afloat.

“We made a lot of upgrades to the outside space to make it more comfortable for everybody — tents, fans,” he said.

But despite the changes, the business was still impacted, especially when the weather didn’t cooperate.

“We can always be open now, no matter what, no matter what the weather is,” said Carulli.

Allen said it’s not just the rainy weather that can make things more difficult.

“In South Beach, it gets really hot. Indoors, you have the air conditioner, so it’s a lot better to be able to serve people indoors,” he said. “A lot of people don’t want to sit out in the hot sun.”

While the management at Mr. Baguette said they’ve been able to survive despite all the previous restrictions by shifting their focus to takeout and delivery, they’re more than ready to move into this new phase.

“We were barely breathing, but now, with this 50% capacity, we’re going to be able to breathe a little bit more,” said Zapata.

However, restaurant managers said, customers also need to cooperate and abide by the rules.

“We kind of have the opportunity to go back to normalcy, as long as everybody’s on the same page,” said James MacInnes, bar manager at KYU Miami.

Carly Salmon and her friend are wrapping up their Miami Beach getaway from California.

“We’re sad that we’re leaving the day when everything opens, but it’s going to be great,” said Salmon. “It’s nice to come in with the A/C and, you know, enjoy sitting at the table inside. Relaxing away from the humidity and heat.”

Grosser said he doesn’t want to think what would happen if county leaders order dining rooms closed again.

“I’m hard-pressed to see how they would make that call again,” he said.

Restaurants will still need to abide by the county’s 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew.

Anyone with questions and concerns about the coronavirus can call the Florida Department of Health’s 24-hour hotline at 1-866-779-6121.

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