The country has been thrust into uncharted waters. And many business owners are desperately trying to swim.
In a mere matter of days, the coronavirus, COVID-19, has upended normalcy around the globe and right here in the Golden Isles. Schools have been dismissed and entertainment venues shuttered. Many companies are trying to navigate how employees can work from home, minimizing the amount of human contact, and by extension, exposure to the illness.
But the restaurant industry is facing its own set of unique challenges. Several populous states, including New York and Ohio, have directed restaurants to offer take out or delivery only options for patrons. That is aimed at limiting the chances of contamination between diners, following the CDC’s guidelines of holding group gatherings to 10 or less.
Locally, small business owners are facing an enormous obstacle: How to turn a profit while adhering to the guidelines.
For Susan Bates, owner of Tipsy McSway’s in downtown Brunswick, the virus threat has put the kibosh on a thriving dining and entertainment scene. While she is still serving food, a number of musical performances were canceled, something that pained Bates to do.
Now she, like so many in the business, are faced with figuring out the next step. For starters, the restaurant is trying to allow for more space between diners and are dedicated to keeping the space exceptionally clean.
“At Tipsy’s, we’re working on temporary solutions to the COVID-19 crisis. We have removed several tables in the restaurant to create more space between people. We are sanitizing constantly,” she said.
And she is also ramping up take-out efforts.
“We are offering take-out orders and curbside service as well as actively working on establishing online ordering,” Bates said.
While she has bills to pay as a business owner, she’s also extremely concerned for her staff, many of whom have families to support.
“I am doing everything I can to keep my folks employed and drawing a paycheck. A lot of the success of our state keeping restaurants and bars open is for our community to be compliant and do what our governor directs,” she said.
Like Bates, Nikki and Jermaine Beasley are also concerned. The owners of Wrap Happy in Brunswick are worried about what it means, both for them and their staff.
They have watched floods of customers swarm large retail stores for food and supplies. But they hope by taking proper precautions and buoying take-out services they can help fill a need, while keeping their doors open.
“As a restaurant, we are taking the government recommended precautions to not spread the illness any further. We have always enforced our employees to wash their hands on a regular basis and to stay home if they are feeling sick in any way,” Jermaine Beasley said.
“Our operation is a take-out service, but we do have seating available. All of our products are made fresh and packaged with minimum exposure. We have also emphasized our services to deliver and curbside pick-up in efforts to minimize physical contact and close proximity with others. We are hoping these efforts are noticed and considered when our community is out and about.”
Nearly every locally owned (and some corporate operated) restaurant is looking to offer similar services to stay afloat. Some are also opting to offer family meals for a discounted price. Echo at King and Prince on St. Simons Island has to-go dinners for families of four for $45. Each weekday the meal selections change.
A Moveable Feast is offering three course meals delivered to the mainland or the island and is exploring other menu options.
In a Facebook video message, restauranteur Dave Snyder owner of Halyards, Tramici and La Plancha announced that their dining rooms will close but each will continue to offer to-go options. Halyards is also rolling out family style meals with a different choices of entrees each night.
As businesses look to support their customers during this difficult time, they hope the public will find safe ways to reciprocate.
“Supporting our local businesses is a major must for our community, I think. After the smoke clears and we are out of danger of the illness, will our community still be here? Will the local businesses be able to endure and continue to pay our employees? Not without support from our community,” Jermaine Beasley said.