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Gloves, sanitizer and masks: Restaurants reopen, but dine-in won't look the same

In 89 Tennessee counties, restaurants can now open at 50 percent capacity.

MARYVILLE, Tenn. — The lunch special today at Gracie's Fine Home Cooking is turkey and dressing and for the first time in weeks, customers can sit down to enjoy it. 

The restaurant is one of the hundreds, possibly thousands, across Tennessee opening its dining room to customers for the first time since late March. 

"The response so far has been pretty good to start out with, I'm encouraged," owner Ken Gentry said with a slight smile. 

An executive order, signed by Governor Bill Lee, allows restaurants in all but the state's largest cities to open at half capacity, provided they take steps to protect from the coronavirus. 

Gentry said the past month closed was as tough as his first month 16 years ago, he said. He had to lay people off and cut hours. 

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But his reopened dining room is not the same as it used to be. Cooks wear gloves, customers use hand sanitizer and staff wipes booths down regularly. 

"We've cleaned everything from the ceiling to the floor," Gentry said. 

Customers cooped up for quarantine describe dining in again as almost a religious affair. After her meal, Teresa Beavers called it "a liberating experience." 

Gentry knows not everyone is ready to go out to eat again, but some clearly are and he is ready to serve them, even at 50 percent capacity. 

"There are so many people out in the community that are ready to get out and do something even if it's just coming over here to eat."