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Restaurant closure comes as diners crowd patio in The Villages

Diners packed the outdoor seating at some restaurants in The Villages Friday afternoon.

Some diners were trying to keep alive longstanding traditions in the face of a pandemic.

It was 3 p.m. at RJ Gators in Lake Sumter Landing, and the patio bar and tables were packed with customers shoulder to shoulder.

The owner had just learned the governor ordered all restaurants in Florida to suspend on-premises consumption of food.

The crowd outside would be his last for weeks, perhaps months, and he was worried about his workers.

But the customers weren’t practicing the social distancing urged by politicians and health experts alike to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Six jovial men crowded around a table. One of them, who didn’t want to give his name, explained what they were doing.

“Put it this way, we knew it was going to happen,” he said. “We knew that the governor was going to shut everything down. So we’re sitting here with the golf group. Now comes the word that, all right, it’s going to be shut down at five o’clock. So we’re having one more and we’re out of here.”

His friend across the table predicted restaurants across the country would have to shut down to stop the virus.

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