SC restaurant dresses, seats blow-up dolls to maintain social distancing

TAYLORS, S.C. (WYFF/CNN) - A South Carolina restaurant used blow-up dolls to make the dining room look full, despite social distancing regulations due to COVID-19, as diners returned in person.

At their Tuesday night reopening, the owners of the Open Hearth restaurant in Taylors, South Carolina, greeted diners and sat them next to a couple of blow-up dolls.

Owner Paula Starr Melehes used blow-up dolls to make the Open Hearth restaurant in Taylors, South Carolina, look as full as it could while still observing social distancing restrictions.
Owner Paula Starr Melehes used blow-up dolls to make the Open Hearth restaurant in Taylors, South Carolina, look as full as it could while still observing social distancing restrictions. (Source: WYFF/CNN)

Owner Paula Starr Melehes says they wanted to make the restaurant look as full as it could while still observing social distancing restrictions implemented over the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, she ordered 10 blow-up dolls – “the G-rated kind” – from Amazon for about $140.

The five couples are dressed in hand-me down clothes and weighted down, so they don’t shift. They are seated at all of the tables that won't be occupied by real customers.

"Instead of using scary, yellow tape or roping off the empty tables, I thought, 'We're going to make this restaurant look full,'" Melehes said. "They are very humorous, and they have nice faces. The ladies have pretty makeup on, and the wigs were gifts from different people.”

Diners are having fun with the dolls, some getting pictures with them and posting on social media.

"I might even kiss one of those dolls before the night is over. I think you'll have to buy her a drink first. If she can drink it, I'll buy it," one longtime customer said.

Melehes doesn’t want people to think the restaurant is taking the state guidelines for reopening lightly.

Diners had fun with the dolls at the restaurant's reopening, some getting pictures with them and posting on social media.
Diners had fun with the dolls at the restaurant's reopening, some getting pictures with them and posting on social media. (Source: WYFF/CNN)

She says they have followed them to a tee by spacing out customer seating, providing an automatic hand sanitizer dispenser and using disposable menus.

The restaurant will require its 13 employees to wear masks, and the temperatures of all employees and customers who walk through the door will be taken.

The family-run restaurant has been in business for 61 years, since Melehes’ father-in-law first opened it.

"We're doing everything we can to make sure we do this right," Melehes said. "We just didn't want the virus to be what shuts us down."

Prior to the reopening, Open Hearth hadn’t served a dine-in customer since March 17.

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