During the winter, the island’s restaurants were bustling as they usually are during high season, their dining rooms and outdoor terraces filled with leisurely chatter.


Then spring dawned and they were paralyzed, shuttered after mounting coronavirus concerns in March prompted state officials to mandate business shutdowns in order to promote social distancing and mitigate the spread of the virus.


Restaurants — inherent gathering places — were among the first ordered to close.


Many people described it as a surreal change in an upscale town where dining out is a social linchpin. For restaurants, which had to transition to takeout and delivery to stay afloat, it continues to devastating.


It was from the beginning.


As Dan Ponton, owner of Surfside Diner, said in March, "What’s happening is absolutely unprecedented. Every day has brought a new and difficult chapter we didn’t expect. You can’t plan for any of this. But I believe in this community and we’re going to get through this together and reopen as soon as it’s safe to do so."


When the second week of March began with four confirmed coronavirus cases in Broward County and other cases elsewhere in Florida, there were still no confirmed coronavirus cases in Palm Beach County.


But on the island, concern about the possible spread of the virus was palpable. To allay customers’ fears, restaurants followed coronavirus business protocols issued by the Centers for Disease Control — and every day, they repeatedly sanitized everything they could in their dining rooms in an effort to keep everything germ-free.


As Jose-Luis Duran, managing partner of Renato’s and its Palm Beach sister restaurants Pizza al Fresco, Al Fresco and Acqua Café, said at the time, echoing other restaurateurs: "We have always had high standards, but we have doubled and tripled down on safety and cleanliness procedures. Menus, wine lists, door handles, handrails, salt and pepper shakers, placemats — basically everything that is touched is constantly being sanitized. Being proactive in our safety measures is of utmost importance."


On March 17, a town-declared island-wide curfew went into effect and Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered, among other things, that restaurants slash customer capacity by half. Island restaurants feared the worst — and it came three days later: On March 20, DeSantis ordered all non-essential businesses to close. Restaurants had to shutter their dining rooms, but could move to takeout and delivery.


Ta-boo, Surfside Diner and Café Europe were among a small wave of restaurants to decide to temporarily close altogether, without takeout and delivery. Many other eateries, in a frenzy, endeavored to reinvent themselves as takeout-and-delivery hubs.


That wasn’t easy for upscale island restaurants accustomed to customer-service-heavy dine-in service. Making the transition involved everything from retooling their websites to figuring out what menu items would travel well on takeout/delivery journeys.


"It’s definitely quite an adjustment," said David Leverrier, the co-owner and manager of family-owned Chez Jean-Pierre, which quickly ordered hundreds of variously sized takeout containers. "We have unknowns right now and a lot of change, but all you can do is keep moving forward."


The transition also meant hundreds of restaurant employees —waiters, busers, hostesses and other key players with dine-in service — were laid off or furloughed. Island restaurateurs said that pained them most.


While restaurants and other small businesses affected by forced coronavirus closures could apply for newly enacted state and federal loan and grant programs to meet payroll and other needs, Palm Beach eateries started employee-assistance initiatives of their own.


Some used online crowdfunding platforms to raise money for employees in need; among them are Café Boulud, Sant Ambroeus and Almond.


PB Catch moved to establish an employee food bank and initiated a private-chef hiring program benefiting its culinary team. Other restaurants created in-house employee funds, fueled by, among other things, pooled takeout-and-delivery tips. Among other initiatives, Al Fresco Hospitality Group committed to continuing payments on its staff’s health-insurance premiums.


Now numerous Palm Beach restaurants on the island continue with "contact-free" takeout, curbside pickup and delivery because officials have not yet given the green light for businesses to reopen.


Not only have island restaurants adapted to the new business model, but they also have introduced daily specials and promotions, such as offering family meal packages or discounts on bottles of wine (the sale of alcohol currently is permitted with takeout as long as it is sold in sealed containers and with food orders).


"Right now," said PB Catch head chef Aaron Black, "I think people are looking for the comfort of simple dishes with exceptional ingredients."