Like all businesses, Central Florida restaurants are dealing with the uncertainties being caused by the reactions to the coronavirus pandemic and are trying to learn how to survive in a climate of social distancing when their very business model is built on the opposite.
So far, most restaurants contacted over the weekend report a reduction in business. How severely the numbers are down seems to depend on location.
“We’re 90 percent full,” said Steve Gunter, owner of the popular Tap Room at Dubsdread in College Park. On Friday night, he texted that the restaurant was “slammed.”
But things were different on Restaurant Row, where convention cancellations are having a rippling effect. “Business for us has come to a screeching halt,” said James Slattery of Big Fin Seafood Kitchen, “and every large party cancelled. I am struggling to find things to keep the [back of the house] busy.”
Greg Richie of Soco in Thornton Park said that he had not seen a significant slowing in sales as yet. “Being that we are much more of a local place, and see very little of the convention and tourism side of business, we are hopeful that the impact to our staff and guests won’t be as severe as what our friends on the other side of town are probably seeing,” Richie wrote in a text message.
Delaney’s Tavern in SoDo has seen a drop off in business, according to Greg Allowe, however, “it’s not consistent.” Delaney’s is attached to a boutique hotel that is also seeing cancellations as corporations are restricting nonessential travel by their employees. Allowe said that he’s using the slower period to engage staff in projects and preventative maintenance. “This is in an effort give them extra hours so to minimize the effect of lower sales that naturally will translate to a smaller paycheck,” he said. “Naturally if the downward trends were to continue we will be forced to reduce hours and other expenses until things go back to normal.”
Gina Merianos, spokeswoman for First Watch, noted that the slowdown is occurring during spring break. “These are the days we’d be typically very busy,” she said in a phone interview, “and we’re anticipating we won’t be.” She added that while the popular daytime cafes are not actively trying to drive more traffic, they are gearing up to offer more third-party delivery and takeout options.
Gunter, too, said that even as Tap Room at Dubsdread was being slammed with guests dining in, it was getting a lot of to-go dinner orders, as well.
Tonda Corrente, owner of La Femme du Fromage at East End Market, tweeted to her followers that her restaurant was trying to increase phone orders of family meals, with the option to pay by phone and have the food brought to the curb so that customers don’t have to get out of their cars.
Delivery or takeout may be your best options to experience restaurant meals while adhering to the (so far) voluntary social distancing. In New York Sunday, mayor Bill de Blasio ordered all bars and restaurants closed indefinitely, with delivery and pickup service the only options. You might consider that as a way to support a favorite restaurant without the risks of public gatherings.
I’m not afraid to dine. Even though I am officially in a high-risk category by dint of age, I keep myself in pretty good shape. But that doesn’t mean I should be out in public. I could easily have the virus and could pass it along to someone else, someone more susceptible to its ravages, without knowing.
So could you.
Most of the reviews you’ll read here in the next few weeks will be written from restaurant visits that have already taken place. There may be some reviews touting some especially good takeout or exceptional curbside service – I want to do what I can to continue to support our restaurant community.
But it’s going to be painful. Even with the business closings and event suspensions expected to be only temporary – two weeks to 30 days – the virus will likely still be with us when life resumes. This period of social distancing is only meant to slow down the rate of transmission so as not to overwhelm medical facilities. I is unlikely, ultimately, to reduce the number of people who will contract it.
So even when we return to full service dining, or if you choose to continue even now, be aware of the restaurant’s hygiene policies. Ask questions, observe the staff. If you see something that makes you think the place is not using good health practices, leave. It’s what I’ve always done.
Even without a pandemic.