Unlike large franchise restaurants, many Athens local restaurants struggle to please customers because of the limited space inside their restaurants.   

Hannah Raines, who is from Athens, doesn’t usually have to wait for a table at Casa Nueva, 6 W. State St., but during Ohio University’s Parents Weekend it was a different story.

“We had to wait an hour to get seated, then it also took like an hour to get my food once we sat down,” said Raines, who is a freshman studying psychology.

However, this isn’t just a problem during university-sponsored event weekends. Many Athens venues face a lack of seating space for patrons, resulting in longer wait times.

For example, Casa Nueva has 17 tables total in the restaurant, six of which are “little teeny ones” that only fit two people, said Casa marketing coordinator Grace Corbin. On any given Friday around 6 p.m., visitors can often expect a wait time of two hours, and during weeknights, she said, there is usually a short wait at one point or another.  

“We don’t take reservations at all. We only have one phone line, and if we took reservations, we wouldn’t be able to take as many carry out orders,” Corbin said. “We don’t want to have empty tables sitting for too long, so not taking reservations allows us to have a higher turnover.”

In August, Corbin said Casa would close to the public for a few days to “hopefully” do a first-phase renovation to expand seating. The Casa team has talked about adding longer benches along both walls and a series of tables that can easily be pushed together and pulled apart. Adding any more than four additional tables would require an entire restaurant expansion, Corbin said.

“Even if we had more seating, it would lead to people waiting longer for their food because we only have (space for) two ovens,” Corbin said.

After the Cantina’s expansion in 2003 from eight tables to about 20, more customers were willing to wait for their tables because there was a place to grab a drink, Corbin said.

“If a party of two comes in for a date and we tell them a half hour, we guide them to grab an appetizer in the Cantina while they wait,” Corbin, who also works in the restaurant as a server and hostess, said. “It helps to distract people from the wait time rather than awkwardly waiting outside or by the door.”

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Sol, 33 N. Court St., does not have a storefront, making it hard to attract customers. The restaurant also lacks a designated waiting area to keep them there. The restaurant can seat up to 50 people, and, because of its small kitchen space, it closes from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. every day, said Todd Wilson, owner of Sol.

“I turn away probably 1,000 people a year because I can’t physically fit them,” Wilson said. “We’d like to find a larger space with more seating and a larger kitchen.”

Wilson notes that the nature of the Athens community makes it difficult to predict the flow of business. Sol closes on the day of the annual HallOUween block party because most people are “interested in partying.”

“You cannot apply a standard business model to operating a business (Uptown),” Wilson said.

Similar to Sol, Union Street Diner’s, 70 W. Union St., busiest hours are during weekend brunch. And similar to Casa, any expansion in its dining area would also require a kitchen expansion. Despite the fact that the restaurant can seat 82 to 92 people, said George Young, general manager of Union Street Diner, they had to put customers on a five-hour wait during brunch time of Sibs Weekend this year.

“During busy weekends we stop taking take-out orders entirely because just handling the business in the restaurant itself is almost more than we can handle,” Young said. “It’s often night time third shift when bars are closing out that we get busier.”




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