Since mid-March, Door County’s dining establishments have had to adopt – and adapt to – the Safer at Home order by switching to carryout service only. Now, as the summer season approaches and reopening begins, they’re evolving again to meet new standards of operation. For better or worse, the traditional dining space has changed, and with it comes a new way of experiencing local food.
The Switch to Curbside
The majority of restaurants that have been operating during the past couple of months have made the transition to serving their guests “curbside”: offering cuisine on a carryout basis. This has allowed diners to safely enjoy the food around the peninsula with minimal person-to-person contact.
This type of service was already a part of operations for some establishments, but for others, the transition took time and meant setting up new processes and systems, plus working through any hiccups. Digital technology – social media, websites and online ordering systems – began to play a central role in further connecting businesses with their customers.
My experiences of dining during the Safer at Home time period involved preordering and prepaying online or by phone, then receiving my orders in to-go packages that were delivered to my vehicle.
To dine at Whistling Swan, for instance, I used its new online ordering platform to order a pickup. Its menu featured small-plate favorites, several entrée specialities and two, two-person entrée options, plus beer and its extensive wine list. I submitted a dinner order and stocked my beer and wine stash at the same time, and an hour later, I drove up outside the restaurant, called to alert the staff of my arrival and received my packaged goods.
Although the food was delicious, I did miss the intimate atmosphere of the dining rooms inside the historic building, as well as the pleasant interactions with the staff.
“I believe the hardest [part of the transition] was not being able to serve and be a part of a dining experience,” said general manager Scott Zimmerman. “We miss guiding diners through choices for food and wine, conversations about their experiences traveling in the area, celebrations for birthdays, honeymoons, babymoons and all the other reasons guests come out to dinner and stay at the inn.”
When ordering wings from Husby’s Food and Spirits, I was asked about my vehicle’s make and color so my order could be delivered – literally – at the curb. When driving throughout the peninsula, it’s been easy to spot the areas where cars are meant to pull up for food service.
Walk-Up Windows and Food Trucks
Husby’s outdoor open-air bar, The Garage, opened on May 2 to offer specialty cocktails and canned beer to be consumed off the premises. Establishments such as The Garage that are able to serve customers out of doors – through a window, using a food truck or from an open bar or kitchen – are especially able to operate effectively as the weather warms. Social distancing is much easier to maintain when patrons are not in a confined space and shared contact points are minimized.
Skip Stone Coffee Roasters in Sister Bay has been offering online ordering since it opened last fall, and it’s switched to serving customers through a walk-up window. Heirloom Cafe & Provisions in Baileys Harbor has taken advantage of a conveniently placed window near its front entrance to offer easy pickup and walk-up service. Its online ordering platform has also offered take-and-bake pizzas, meal kits and items from its gift shop.
Wally’s Weenie Wagon food truck began welcoming customers again this year in mid-May, and its operators were happily surprised to be greeted by eager customers.
“Our season has started off a lot busier than we expected. But it feels great to be full time Weenie Wagon,” Wally Vartanian said.
The outdoor dining scene seems to be on its way to becoming the preferred way to dine during the coming months as concerns about COVID-19 spread are still front and center. We can expect to see expanded patios and outdoor dining areas to address those concerns and meet social-distancing standards.
As with any situation that forces an entire industry to change, there are the obvious challenges, but also some unexpected silver linings. Dining as we know it has changed, but we have also been introduced to novel ways to enjoy favorite flavors.
Take-home meal kits such as the ones created by Ohana Hospitality and sold at Bearded Heart Coffee are helping customers shake things up in their own kitchen. Dining options for couples and groups – such as the Mother’s Day brunch kit from Chives – allow for interesting, family-style meals. And take-home cocktail kits such as the cheeky mixes (pictured) from CHOP are emerging as new ways to enjoy food and drink outside of the traditional dining room.