ATLANTIC CITY — Casinos were designed to keep guests inside by offering visitors a plethora of dining, entertainment and nightlife options.
But COVID-19 changed that reality, especially when it comes to food and beverage choices.
With less than three days’ notice, casinos had to rethink how to feed thousands of people after Gov. Phil Murphy nixed plans to allow indoor dining to resume.
Forced to think outside the box — and outside the walls of their properties — casinos have used nearly every available inch of outdoor space to accommodate guests who are less concerned about coronavirus than where their next meal is coming from.
From expanded Boardwalk seating to food trucks to rooftop dining, Atlantic City casinos have found ways to make the best of a tough situation.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which opened to the general public Sunday after being closed since March and opted to forgo reopening earlier this month because of the prohibition on indoor dining, has, arguably, the least amount of outdoor space of any of Atlantic City’s nine casinos.
Borgata spent the last three weeks fine tuning their food and beverage offerings, while their counterparts were reopening all across the city.
“We’re impressed with the food trucks and the seating they have outside,” said Tom Chaffee, of Youngstown, Ohio, who was poolside at the Borgata Beer Garden with his wife, Donna. “It’s the new normal.”
Food trucks were also a hit at Ocean Casino Resort, where Steve and Lorraine McMahon, of Whiting, Ocean County, were seated in beach chairs in the shade under the porte cochere enjoying cheeseburgers.
Not having to make a reservation, carry takeout through the casino to a hotel room or wait in long lines at the food trucks was a plus for the McMahons.
“This is wonderful,” Lorraine McMahon said in between bites. “Ocean has been the best ... very nice people, very good food.”
Down the Boardwalk, rooftop dining at Guy Fieri’s Chophouse atop Bally’s Atlantic City offers guests some of the best unobstructed views of the ocean in the entire city.
“As long as I’ve been hittin’ A.C., I’ve always loved the summer weather and gettin’ out there and hitting the beach and the Boardwalk,” Fieri said. “So, for me to be able to offer outdoor rooftop dining with the Chophouse and my BBQ Joint right on the beach, it’s a dream come true. We’re keepin’ it safe and makin’ it fun. Come see us.”
For the second time this month, Jamie Lee and Sydney Myer, of Philadelphia, were having a meal at Gordon Ramsay Steak “Under the Stars” beneath the tent on top of Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. The rooftop dining may be a different experience, they said, but one that was still worth it.
“They’re doing very well adapting to the outdoor dining,” Lee said. “I think it’s more that everybody else is trying to adapt to it.”
Myer said they learned from their last Atlantic City trip earlier this month to make restaurant reservations well in advance.
“If you’re walking up (most places) won’t take reservations or an hour to an hour-and-a-half is very commonplace,” he said. “That’s tough if you only have so much time in your vacation.”
Olga Rivera and Ann “Mac”, of the Bronx, New York, found out the hard way that reservations are difficult to come by in Atlantic City. After arriving Saturday night, the two ladies could not get a table at Kelsey’s on Pacific Avenue or get takeout from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
They settled for pizza instead.
On Sunday, Rivera and “Mac” were able to enjoy a meal at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville on the Boardwalk outside Resorts Casino Hotel.
Afterward, they said the casinos may want to take a closer look at keeping the expanded al fresco options.
“I just think that there’s an opportunity to have more outdoor dining available,” Rivera said. “(The restaurants) should be able to accommodate the people that are visiting and have more outdoor dining experiences.”