By Russ Lay | Outer Banks Voice on May 26, 2020
This past weekend North Carolina relaxed its rules concerning restaurant operations in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. The new rules require restaurants to follow strict protocols in every aspect of their service. And for the policy to be effective, customer behaviors will also require some changes.
But the $64,000 question on the minds of many is a simple one. Is it safe to dine out under the new policies? And perhaps we can add a 64-year-old question. Can senior citizens also enjoy returning to restaurants operating under the new policies? While each individual must make their own risk assessment, in the judgment of our party of four — all of whom would qualify for a ‘senior discount’ somewhere in the world of retail — the conclusion is positive. We decided upon La Dolce Vita — a popular Italian-themed restaurant in Corolla as our destination.
We’ve reviewed this establishment in the Voice before and it was conducting an unadvertised soft opening this past Saturday as a test run under the new state policies. We called ahead to see if customers needed masks and were told that we did, but only when we checked in and as we were being escorted to our table.
The restaurant is located in the TimBuck II shopping center and the parking lot was full but not overflowing. A few other restaurants and a handful of stores were open.
Our party donned our masks and headed to the entrance where we were greeted by a sign asking that only one member of the party check in. Everyone else was to remain outside.
Our designee for the task returned and said a table would be ready quickly. We were to be joined by the parents of chef Anne-Marie Marzetti, who co-owns the restaurant with her mother Barbara. Her father Al is a retired lawyer and a magistrate in Corolla so now we were a party of six.
As we lingered outside, we noticed the setting provides ample opportunity for patrons to social distance while waiting to be served. The staff member checking your party in will take a mobile phone number and call you — allowing parties to sit at benches, visit some shops or walk around in safety. You can even choose to return to your car. You will be called or texted on the phone when your table is ready. If you are close by when you call (within a few minutes arrival) and a table is available, it will be held for you.
When our table was ready, we were greeted by a staff member donned in a mask. We were also required to wear our masks while being escorted to our table and then informed we could remove them once seated.
While no one was seated at the bar when we came in, the bar area had tables distanced six or more feet apart for customers to enjoy some pre-dinner libations. Inside, there is a combination of tables and booths in the dining area. The tables were easily six feet apart and the distancing was provided at the booths by only seating parties in every other station — a distance of well over six feet. A small outdoor dining area is also available and once more —separation between tables was six or more feet.
The table itself was devoid of any utensils or glasses — no pre-setting, as is customary. Under the new procedures, everything a customer might touch is designed for one-time use. Once we settled in at the table, silverware was brought wrapped in sealed plastic wrap, including paper napkins, menus were printed on paper that is disposed of once orders are placed, and glasses were brought along with water.
Condiments are also brought to the table as single use and then thrown away after the party leaves. In essence, everything a customer touches is single use and is either disposed of after that use or, as in the case of plates and glasses, re-washed and sanitized as has always been the case. The entire staff was masked and wore gloves.
We spoke to chef and co-owner Anne-Marie Marzetti about the procedures La Dolce Vita have implemented.
“Before we re-opened, we had the entire staff take the Count On Me NC state training. Everyone in the kitchen is ‘Serve Safe Food Handler Certified’ or ‘Serve Safe Manager Certified.’ Me and the managers also did the Serve Safe COVID training as well. The Count on Me NC was specific to North Carolina mandated regulations under the COVID-19 re-opening policies,” she explained.
This is why only one member of the party is allowed to check in. While some restaurants have implemented a reservation-only policy, La Dolce Vita is using a call ahead option and will still take walk-ins if there’s space. With only 50% capacity allowed, Marzetti suggested the call-ahead option would be the best choice as the season gets into full swing.
Once a party leaves, everything is bleached and sanitized using products approved under the guidelines. “Under the new rules tables, chairs and contact surfaces aren’t just cleaned as before — everything is sanitized, and the training taught the staff the difference between the two concepts,” Marzetti added.
Hand sanitizers are placed all over the restaurant so clients can also have access to those products, especially after paying for the meal where some handling of the bill and the credit cards is required by staff and customers. If you have leftovers, another change in procedure is that customers must box their own food as servers no longer perform that task for you.
There have also been some menu changes. “We found out, especially since COVID, people want to eat earlier so we’ve dispensed with the lunch menu for this season and are open from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and do the same menu the entire time. So right now, it’s the dinner menu with our usual entrees, pizzas and salad. As we build capacity, if regulations are relaxed, we’ll add some light fare such as antipasto choices,” Marzetti said. Take out is still available also.
We felt quite isolated and safe during our visit. There’s plenty to explore in the TimBuck II shopping center if you must wait for a table, so there’s need to fear waiting outside in long lines or crowded areas.
The food as usual was excellent as our table sampled Chicken Parmesan, Seafood Diablo, a slightly spiced mix of shrimp, mussels and lump crab meat tossed in a spicy marinara bourbon cream sauce served over an ample bed of spaghetti, the largest Lasagna dish I’ve ever seen with ground Italian sausage, meatballs, and a blend of ricotta and mozzarella cheese, and a lovely Smoked Salmon Salad large enough for two. Entrees ranged from $17.99 to $27.99 and there was a full selection of appetizers, soups and salads, desserts as well as full bar service.
As an added bonus, readers can watch chef and co-owner Anne-Marie Marzetti as a contestant in Guy Fieri’s “Guy’s Grocery Games” on the Food Network this Wednesday, May 27 at 9:00 p.m.
La Dolce Vita
798 Sunset Blvd
Timbuck II Shopping Center
Hours: 3-9 | Phone: 252-453-0069