Steady business during the inaugural Dine on Delaware weekend in Trolley Square has restaurants there enthusiastic about continuing it through October.
The event shuts down two blocks of Delaware Avenue in Forty Acres from 4 p.m. on Fridays through 10:30 p.m. Sunday. That allows nine restaurants to put tables and chairs in the street, expanding the number of people they can serve and the money they can make.
“Overall, we were very pleased with how everything went,” said Angela Ryan, who handles marketing for Catherine Rooney’s Irish Pub & Restaurant and the Trolley Tap House. Both are owned by the McCoy family, Joe McCoy was one of the event’s organizers.
“It was really wonderful to see the tables filled all along Delaware Avenue,” she said. “We looked at this not only as a great way to support the local businesses, but we feel like we’re providing a safe dining environment, which I think is what people are really looking for at this time.
The city of Wilmington is anxious to help restaurants regain their patronage after being shut down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have been allowed to reopen, but can only serve a fraction of their former guests indoors because of social distancing requirements that demand diners be 8 feet apart.
Many restaurants have expanded outside, partly because health officials say the chances of being infected by COVID-19 drops considerably in fresh circulating outdoor air.
Dine on Delaware puts tables six feet apart in one lane of Delaware Avenue. The other is left open in case emergency vehicles need to drive through. Cross streets remain open.
Those eating are asked to wear their masks to the table and if they leave the table. They also are asked to stay at their table and not visit others.
The Trolley Square restaurants served food and drink starting at 4 p.m. Friday and at noon on Saturday and Sunday. The last outdoor seatings are at 9 p.m., with street service ending at 10:30 p.m. all three days.
Last weekend, musicians performed outside while diners ate al fresco.
Dine on Delaware was inspired by Curbside Wilmington. That event has been closing the 800 block of Market Street every Friday night for two months. Restaurant owners there says it’s brought business and energy downtown.
Restaurants in Trolley didn’t count the number of people who ate there over the weekend, Ryan said.
Organizers had planned a kind of soft opening with little fanfare. Then the city of Wilmington put out a late-afternoon press release Friday and word began spreading on social media.
Tables were usually full, and if one restaurant was filled, customers usually chose another outdoor spot to eat at, Ryan said. Diners could also choose to eat indoors or order takeout.
Street seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis, Ryan said.
Some of the restaurateurs said that if crowds pick up, they may have to put time limits on the street tables. If Dine on Delaware’s success mounts, the restaurants will reconsider whether to allow reservations, Ryan said.
Organizers don’t plan to add more tables because they want everyone to feel safe.
Diner Kevin Freel thought the first night went well.
“I haven’t been going out much at all, so it was kind of neat to see a bunch of people,” said Freel, the former owner of O’Friel’s Irish Pub.
He enjoyed hearing Benny Preston sing. Freel knew Preston years ago and urged him to learn some Irish songs, he said.
Friday evening started out quietly and built in intensity, he said. His party got there about 5:30 p.m.
“By the time we left at a quarter after 8, every table was full,” Freel said. “I think it’s a great idea. I think it helps business, and it doesn’t disrupt traffic too much.”
Joe Mujica at Kelly’s Logan House noticed business building Friday, too.
The weather had not looked like it was going to be great, he said.
“And it turned out to be a beautiful night,” he said. The Philadelphia Flyers game against the Montreal Canadiens also brought in people.
“It was a great day for us,” Mujica said. “I’m excited to see how it’s going to go into the fall.”
The biggest lesson the restaurants learned wasn’t about table placement or anything technical, Ryan said.
“You know what works really well? Working together with the other businesses in the area,” Ryan said. “We feel like it has helped and will help get people comfortable with coming back out.”