In a normal year, visitors to Constitution Yards on the Wilmington Riverfront would have their hands all over the fun things to do.
This is not a normal year.
As the outdoor beer garden prepares for a new season, Constitution Yards is making many of the adjustments that other Delaware restaurants are making for the June 1st reopening of dining areas.
Under Governor John Carney’s COVID-19 State of Emergency Declaration, establishments must limit attendance to 30 percent of capacity under local fire codes, and they must take numerous other measures to protect the health and safety of their visitors and their employees.
The relaxed atmosphere at 30,000-square-foot summer venue is central to its appeal. It’s family-friendly and dog-friendly. Games that would normally be available include corn hole, Wiffleball, bocce ball and giant Jenga.
Most of the fun and games at Constitution Yards may have to wait until another reopening phase. But, owner Johnny Heil said it will be ready to welcome visitors June 1st.
Axe-throwing is on. Yards of mulch are being raked into each stall this week, and the outdoor facility plans to open every other lane until crowd sizes can bump up above 30% of capacity.
“We’ve just been kind of carefully following the Governor’s guidance. Like everyone, we’re kind of apprehensive about trying to make sure the state is in a good place balancing out the health concerns first and foremost,” Heil said. “It’s a tricky thing.”
“We’re excited. We’re excited to be part of the reopening,” Heil added. “We’re proud to be a part of Wilmington and the state in general.”
Everyone must be seated, no more than 6 people per table
Since standing is not allowed in the first phase of the restaurant and bar reopening, Heil had to get creative (and spend some money) to find a way to seat all of his customers and comply with the 30 percent restriction.
They’ve purchased 25 new picnic tables for the front lawn of the beer garden, which are already spaced on either side of the main walkway. These tables are in addition to the dozen or so picnic tables inside the cargo perimeter.
Remember the lines for ordering food and drinks? To avoid those crowds forming, customers will now have to order from their tables using the Toast app. Customers will receive a notification when their order is ready.
“It’s one of the better interactive platforms for restaurants and for consumers as well,” said Constitution Yard first-year General Manager Mark Barnyak.
According to Barnyak, adjustments are expected to continue after the opening in June.
“As the regulations get announced in different phases, we’re adapting on the fly and making the choices so we can do safe service and still give the community a reprieve,” he said.
“People are starting to get a little antsy stuck inside. We have the space and we’re hoping to bring some smiles, some fun and some music. We’ll see as it goes. It’s going to be an evolving adventure this year for sure,” he said.
Other than axe throwing, the hands-on activities will not be part of the Yards’ initial reopening. Tables are now set up in places where kickball and Wiffleball had been played in the past and in locations that were used for overflow parking. Tables may move around as restrictions are loosened.
“From what we can tell from the Governor’s guidance and the health department, they really want folks to stay at their tables. We’re not meant to be set up in kind of a communal atmosphere just yet,” Heil said.
As other phases of reopening expand, Heil said the beer garden would look into ways to safely reintroduce the lawn games while developing a procedure of sanitizing any items that are handled by customers between uses.
The venue also plans to be extra communicative through social media and other channels to make sure visitors don’t go away disappointed because of crowd size or other issues. “We don’t want to disappoint people, but we also want to maintain a really safe atmosphere,” Heil said.
Oven-cooked pizza a new offering this year
Many of the employees who’ve staffed Constitution Yards are looking forward to coming back. Barnyak said the venue may employ up to 50 people. Some positions are still open.
“People are really looking to get back out there. It’s a tough time for everybody. To be able to offer some employment for the community, we’re excited to have those opportunities,” Barnyak said.
As the city’s premier outdoor beer garden looks forward to another season on the Riverfront, Heil said the popular snack and sandwich options will return. The Yards also is hoping to offer pizzas fresh from a new oven.
According to the latest guidance, patrons will be required to wear masks on their way to their tables but could remove them to eat and drink.
CY plans to sell masks with holes for sipping cocktails
Heil said Constitution Yards is also looking into making a special mask available – one with a hole that allows the wearer to sip a drink through a straw. They are working with a vendor to make one just for CY that people can buy directly from their website. (Those masks are not available yet.)
The unexpected can be expected as Constitution Yards sets its opening for 4 p.m. June 1st and noon on weekends. Hours for opening week are:
Mon-Wed 4-9 pm
Thu 4-10 pm
Sun 12-8 pm
Although Barnyak has a 20-year career in the hospitality industry working in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, this will be the first year he is managing Constitution Yards.
“I love challenges. It’s what drives me. It’s what motivates me. I love having guests having a great experience whether it’s in my restaurant, my beer garden or wherever,” Barnyak said. “To be able to have the opportunity to bring a little bit of joy and some safe space for people to get out and socialize a little bit, that drives me.”
“I know we’re going to really knock it out of the park this year. We’re looking forward to it.”