Florida's decision to close restaurants' dine-in areas indefinitely means uncertainty going forward.
For most, it’s one of life’s little pleasures. You dress up, go out and enjoy a meal on the town.
But the coronavirus pandemic has left few aspects of everyday life untouched.
On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the suspension of dine-in services at restaurants. Takeout and delivery services, including orders on packaged alcohol, have been allowed to continue. Although many restaurants have kept running, most have had to lay off workers, and some proprietors warn the takeout/delivery-only models of business aren’t sustainable.
Restaurants such as Euphemia Haye, The Shore and Whitney’s have made the transition to to-go services, while others, such as Mar Vista, Maison Blanche and La Norma are also doing delivery. However, Harry’s Continental Kitchen, Columbia Restaurant and Turtle Coffee Bar are among the restaurants that have closed.
Prior to Friday, Michael Garey, proprietor of Lazy Lobster, was tracking news updates around the clock and doing everything he could to follow the state government’s recommendations.
This included actions such as sanitizing menus and chairs between use by customers, adding a bathroom attendant to keep surfaces such as faucets and toilets clean and removing tables to limit seating capacity to 50 percent.
But Garey also sensed that Friday’s announcement would come, and he was prepared. He quickly sent emails to each of his employees who would be furloughed or laid off, mostly servers, bussers and bartenders, so that they could get in line for unemployment benefits as quickly as possible. He also told them that if the situation turns around within a few weeks, he’d love to invite them back.
Garey also stopped encouraging patrons to dine in at Lazy Lobster over a week ago, instead ramping up his takeout service. He has been surprised by how well the takeout service is doing so far, but the losses compared to dine-in services are still dramatic. On Monday, Garey received $2,452 in takeout orders. Last year on the same date, Lazy Lobster brought in $17,900.
“It helps get us through,” Garey said. “We feel pretty confident of our position to outlast this, but there's gonna be a lot of restaurants in Sarasota and Manatee County that will not survive if this lingers, much past a couple weeks. … We're at the mercy of everybody in America going, ‘OK, we got to cut spending. Where do we start? Restaurants.’”
Still, Longboaters are finding a way to show their generosity. On Monday night at 10:19 p.m., Garey sent out an email to thousands of customers, asking them to purchase gift cards and donate to an employee relief fund. By 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, $750 had already been donated to the relief fund. Another patron sent a $2,000 check, making it the second that has been donated to Lazy Lobster employees in a little over a week.
Takeout wasn’t a large part of Euphemia Haye’s business in the past, but it’s the only part of the restaurant’s business now. After ordering 2,000 takeout containers, Euphemia Haye will start taking reservations for people to order curbside service Wednesday.
“[When] you pick up your meal, it's ready to take home and put on your own plate,” proprietor D’Arcy Arpke said. “We're cooking to order it as if we were taking the food out to the dining room.”
Like Lazy Lobster, Euphemia Haye has had to furlough much of its staff.
“[We don’t have] any real answers for them because we haven’t really gotten any real answers from the government,” Arpke said. “We miss seeing our people, our customers, our employees.”
La Norma recently introduced delivery service, which it had strongly considered before, before the shutdown on dine-in areas was ordered.
The pandemic hits close to home for La Norma. The proprietors of La Norma, including Gianfranco Santagati, are from Italy. Santagati said he knows people in Italy who have had to close their restaurants.
“We are concerned, like all of us [here],” Santagati said. “We're thinking that we might have the same sort of path [as Italy] that we will go through, all of us. We don't know yet. Maybe the experience will help with the Americans to fight better.”