Sunday, July 12, 2020

Restaurants adapt to COVID-19 changes

On March 16, restaurant managers and owners abruptly got notes that at 8 p.m. that night they would have to lock their doors and lay off their employees. Adirondack restaurants grew empty and dark. As national pandemic wreaked havoc throughout the country, many businesses struggled to stay afloat.

Some restaurants shut down in the wake of a national pandemic ,while others adapted by switching to takeout. Now that indoor and outdoor dining has resumed (starting with 50 percent capacity), how are restaurants faring?  

Relying on takeout

While prior to the pandemic they had very few takeout orders, Bitters and Bones in Saranac Lake has relied heavily on delivery and pickup since the pandemic hit. Once manager Johnny Williams realized that the pandemic was going to last a while, he and his brother/business partner sat down and made a plan that involved:

  •  Zero contact ordering and pickup.
  • Implementing the use of face masks, gloves 
  • Sanitizing everything. 

“It was a group effort,” said Williams. 

Relying on just takeout still doesn’t make up for the business before. Bitters and Bones has decided not to do outdoor seating. Williams says that it wouldn’t be best for the business. They would have to “police” the 8-12 tables and make sure everyone was following NYS-protocols, which would require extra staff. 

Reopening challenges

In Lake Placid, Big Slide Brewery and Public House is currently open for indoor and outdoor seating. 

 “The majority of the customers have been good and the customers who challenge everything are extraordinarily aggressive in challenging and really don’t seem to realize we are following the rules.” said Chris Ericson, owner of both Big Slide and Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. “They are not our rules, they are the rules that allow us to be open after being closed for 100 days.” 

According to Ericson, the new rule that’s hardest to enforce is getting people to wear their mask when they leave. Restaurant workers have no leverage when patrons are on their way out, creating a tense situation for anyone in the restaurant business. 

“God forbid someone from the department of health or liquor authority drives by then we could lose our license,” said Ericson. 

At Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, Ericson is delaying the opening of indoor seating until mid-July, relying instead on the ample outdoor tables.

With almost no events taking place in Lake Placid, Ericson predicts that businesses will be making a fraction of what they could be.

“On Labor Day I think that we are going to find that if we all hit 50 percent of our sales we’ll be lucky,” said Ericson.

For most businesses, the last 100 days have been surreal. Everything in town shut down. Even though takeout helped, it was a fraction of what Big Slide and Lake Placid Pub had normally been doing. 

“I went from 100 (employees) to three at one point,” said Ericson.

Uncertain times

For Ericson and other restaurant owners the question now becomes how much should I save in the future? 

“No matter how diligent you are about planning and rainy-day funds and savings accounts,” Ericson said, “No one plans on zero income for 100 days.” 

“People always say that tomorrow is never given in your life. I guess tomorrow is never given in your business either,” said Ericson. 

Troy Ford and James Shaffer can relate to Ericson’s statement. The two opened the Newcomb Café and Campground in January, after months of renovations before the big grand opening.

 Two months later, the coronavirus forced them to close.

As a new restaurant opening up during snowmobiling season, it was a great two months. On March 17 they decided to close altogether. Ford’s parents live up in Newcomb so they decided for their health and the customers health they would close down to be safe. 

They rode the pandemic out and then opened back up when the state gave the green light to indoor dining. 

Fallback plan

For tiny Newcomb, (population 409 people, according to the 2018 census), Ford and Shaffer saw that there was a gap of places for residents to eat out and buy local provisions. 

“Our idea was to have it as a local place where locals could pick up the everyday needs that they have and then have a place to have breakfast or lunch,” said Ford.

A silver lining for them: Being closed between snowmobile season and Memorial Day meant they were closed during what would typically be a slow season anyway. They also used the down time to get the campground in order for its inaugural season, and so far it’s off to a big start.

“People who would have normally gone on vacation to Disney or Florida or gone on a cruise aren’t doing that. They are renting RV’s,” said Ford.

Having that second part of their business to drive their overall success.  has been paying off, despite all the additional work involved. For instance, the extra cleaning and sanitizing routines have put pressure on the owners. Having to buy single use items like packets of salt and pepper or ketchup. They also face a shortage of available employees in their small town, but so far Ford’s not complaining.

“Our business has definitely exceeded what we projected.”

Photo of Big Slide Brewery by Mike Lynch/Adirondack Explorer

 

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