After years of social distancing, restaurants ready for Memorial Day crowds with no COVID-19 restrictions

NEW HANOVER  COUNTY (WWAY) — As tourists and locals alike get ready to kick back and enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, restaurants around the region are preparing for crowds like no other.

Every year, tourists pour into the Cape Fear for out water, beaches, and incredible food.

“Up north we do it, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Boston, calamari is the best,” said one visitor at the Oceanic. “This calamari here at this restaurant is the closest to New England calamari I’ve ever had in my life. Fantastic.”

It’s one of the busiest times of the year for local restaurants, especially those on the water.

“This is the unofficial start to summer,” said Mark Zecher, Oceanic’s General Manager. “So is the big kickoff. Lot of people coming in town. We’re going to be very very busy all weekend.”

And as the first Memorial Day without any form of coronavirus restrictions in place, managers like Ben Reingold are preparing staff for non-stop shifts.

“We should expect to be even busier than we’ve been,” he explained. “All year long this year we’ve seen a sustained increase in business. I would expect it to be good.”

Reingold manages Elijah’s, a riverfront restaurant in the heart of downtown Wilmington. The establishment is no stranger to the holiday crowd.

“If it weren’t raining today, I think we could’ve opened up to a long line at the door,” he said looking outside. “Especially as we’re looking tomorrow, no school, no work. So I think tomorrow at 11:30 am, we’ll opening to lines at the front and lines at the river.”

Though the crowds are back, staffing hasn’t fully recovered. Oceanic is still looking for cooks and maintenance workers. This time last year, Reingold says he had half the staff and twice the customers. Though they’re still hiring, he says his staff is prepared and ready for anything.

“Friday, Saturday, Sunday it’s game time here. So I just tell them to get rested now, take care of yourself, drink water, and then yeah, we’re here for it. This is what we do.”

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