One of Bakersfield's favorite lunchtime traditions changed with the times Tuesday, and fortunately for the people involved, a cool breeze blowing through downtown made the transition that much more pleasant.
For the first time, the Guild House Restaurant opened its 2020-21 season Tuesday with outdoor seating. It also made its meals available for takeout, which represented another first for the upscale eatery dedicated to raising money for the Henrietta Weill Memorial Child Guidance Clinic.
No one on hand seemed to mind the adjustment. Most seemed to be enjoying the experience of taking lunch on the property's lawn or patio under large, appropriately distanced umbrellas with fans pointed their direction.
"It's beautiful," said Diane Hoffman, who with her husband, John, chatted leisurely over an entree of country chicken with Mornay sauce. Courses included chicken noodle soup, carrots Eleanor, French potato salad and a dessert of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.
"I love being outside and of course the food is great," she added. "They've done a lot of work."
Indeed the all-volunteer staff has. Preparation for this year's start of service, following its traditional closure in mid-June, has included special training for keeping diners safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A change few noticed Tuesday was a scheduling matter: Instead of the usual Monday-through-Friday operating hours, the restaurant will be open only Tuesdays through Thursdays. As before, lunch service begins at 11:30 a.m. and concludes two hours later.
The reason for the change is a shortage of volunteers comfortable with returning to work during the pandemic, said Mary Vanderwerff, president of the Child Guidance Guild of Bakersfield Inc., which owns and operates the restaurant.
Vanderwerff noted that despite the truncated operating schedule the restaurant is still taking bookings for baby showers and the like. She added that a murder-mystery dinner event scheduled for Sept. 25 comes with a three-course dinner, plus wine, for $75 per person.
Also new this year, but not as obvious as the new seating arrangements, is a crucial piece of hardware in the kitchen. The restaurant was able to raise enough money through a matching grant to pay for a new, $20,000 oven.
Chef Pat Coyle, when asked the difference between the new and the old oven, answered dryly, "This one works."
Working beside him in the kitchen Tuesday, cook Stephanie Massey said she's actually happy to finally be getting back to work after a quiet summer that gave her "the COVID blues."
"Nice to be back to normal," she said before quickly adding, "kind of normal — the new normal."
Out on the lawn a grandmother, Nannette Lynch, and her 19-year-old granddaughter, Kaitlin Blair, seemed to be appreciating one another's company amid the bustle of downtown with cars driving by and the din of weekday business activity all around the corner of 18th and F streets.
"We can still hear each other talk," Blair said, adding it was her first time at the Guild House and that she loved it.
Lynch described it as a lovely experience: accommodating staff and good food for a good cause — perfect for a day out with her granddaughter.
"It's not too hot," she said. "It's a good day."
In another part of the lawn, customer Carrie Salinas confided that she had been counting the days until Tuesday's reopening.
What excited her most was the new takeout option, she said, adding, "That way, if I can't get a seat I can still get that."
Her lunch companion, Cheryl Atwater, welcomed the whole thing as a new experience.
"We've all having to adapt," she said.