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This restaurant uses dolls to ensure customers adhere to social distancing

The South Carolina restaurant hasn't served a dine-in customer since March 17, but on Tuesday night, owners were hoping for a full house — well, sort of.

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The Open Hearth restaurant hasn't served a dine-in customer since March 17, but on Tuesday night, owners were hoping for a full house — well, sort of.

Paula Starr Melehes and her husband, Jimmy, have carefully followed all of South Carolina's guidelines for reopening the popular restaurant, including making sure customers are seated at least 6 feet apart.

That makes for a lot of empty tables.

"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.

dolls dressed as customers as open hearth restaurant reopens
Paula Starr Melehes

She ordered blow-up dolls from Amazon — "the G-rated kind," she said — dressed them up and has them seated at all of the tables that won't be occupied by real customers.

"My grandson told me they look kind of creepy," Melehes said. "But, I think, when people walk in, they're going to laugh."

Melehes doesn't want people to think they're taking the guidelines lightly.

dolls placed at tables not being used because of social distancing at open hearth restaurant
Paula Starr Melehes

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

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

Melehes said the entire restaurant was professionally sanitized Monday: "walls, vents — the works."

"We can't afford a shutdown," Melehes said.

The family-run restaurant has been in business for 61 years, since Melehes said her 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."

dolls dressed as customers at open hearth restaurant
Paula Starr Melehes