Vic Clevenger

We’re Starting to Open

Every state is now in the process of opening back up. Some are farther along than others but opening none the less. It’s also a welcomed sight to see restaurants welcoming diners back to their establishments. As much as all of us love to cook at home sometimes it’s just nice to go in someplace, whether a favorite or a new experience, and sit down to eat. So, it’s nice to drive through down and see so many faces smiling because they are sitting at a café enjoying a wrap of some kind.

Everyone, in one way or another has been affected by this virus. Many people we know have been told to work from home until given the word to come back, whenever that may be. Worse, some have been furloughed (they still have a job, technically) but have no idea when or even if their company will bring them back. Worse still are those whose place of business just let them go and now they must find work, whenever work opens again. It’s in this we see our restaurant workers who live and breathe the culinary industry, even though they may never become a Bobby Flay or Giada De Laurentiis.

As you know the restaurant world took a massive it, loosing around 5 million jobs in one way or another. Then this gets compounded with the meat suppliers are also having trouble getting their meat to processors because many have closed because of COVID-19 (Tyson closed at least 4 of their plants) creating challenges in getting this meat to the stores, restaurants and untimely in your kitchen. Stores are limiting the amount of each products a person can purchase. Wendy’s, the national fast food restaurant has been forced to limit what they offer on the menu (can’t get that Baconator for the time being).

With all this still going on there is good news. Places are starting to open back up again. In Florida, restaurants can serve up to 50% capacity along with outdoor seating where available. New Jersey has plans to open beaches and beach restaurants during Memorial Weekend. This will be a struggle for many businesses because of dining room size causing them to continue the curbside or delivery options a little longer.  On the bright side of this, some have found a new revenue stream they didn’t have before. The one key word we all need to keep in mind as we move forward is patience. Patience for all the changes taking place in our favorite dining establishments.

Social Distancing

This has become a phrase in our daily conversations we never considered two or three months ago. Now we will say it, hear it or read it at least a hundred times in a day. Recently in Texas, a steak cookoff implanted this for both the competitors and the judges but pulled off a great contest. The White House press conferences are being held outside so everyone can be at least six feet apart. Before the shutdown I visited a restaurant and spoke to the manager about this. He had implemented some safety precautions but hadn’t been forced to social distance the dining room, he told me, because the patrons were doing it themselves. Now is a different story.

Over this past weekend I was in south Florida and we all decided to celebrate my daughter’s birthday at one of her favorite restaurants. There was no walk ups being accepted, everything was by reservation, which we had made. The hostess showed us to our table which was in the middle of the dining area and was at least six feet from the next table. You could see where tables used to reside by the décor on the walls but not today and not for the foreseeable future.

Masks

This isn’t totally foreign to us here as we’ve seen the Asian culture wearing them for years because of other viruses. As I have traveled for years, I would see the occasional person or family wearing them but didn’t think much about it. Although it wasn’t recommended (nor discouraged) at the time, the last trip back in March I noticed several more but still not many. I even counted them (10 people). But now it’s a totally different story.

Everywhere we turn the employees are wearing masks and, in some stores, they are requiring the customer to also wear a mask. Although it would be difficult in a restaurant to require guests to wear them, we need to start getting used to seeing our servers and chefs wearing them. Food sport events will also be requiring them for the time being. Many are wondering if this will be permanent. I doubt it, but for now, we need to exhibit some patience.

Extra Expenses

When Texas was opening up so were some steak contests, but they had a problem, no steaks. How do you have a steak cookoff when no steaks? The phone lines (yes, that’s an old-fashioned term) where buzzing trying to secure the meat and luckily, they went on without a hitch. Another promoter, since his state is opening, has been on the phone non-stop trying to get some steaks. Again, this seems to be working out but not without a cost.

Restaurants and stores are limited products while others are starting to raise the prices because the suppliers have raised theirs (you know how this works). We are going to see some slow increase in food costs, and this is to be expected. As we all continue to work through this we’re just going to have to have patience with our favorite places because those prices are increasing for them as they are for us at the store.

Added Costs

Restaurants have a bunch of costs we forget they have and now with COVID-19 there are more. One person was telling me their favorite buffet will now have a person or two at the food bar to serve them whatever they desire. This is an additional cost. He told me before the shutdown there were a box of gloves for the patrons to wear as they went through line to serve themselves. Another additional cost. Menus aren’t cheap and as some restaurants increase food prices it will mean new menus. Additional costs. You can see where I am going with this.

For most, their 2020 budget was set and for some, there was no room for extras. Not only will there be these added costs, many went without full or partial income they were counting on to make this already tight budget. Sure, they will figure it out and make the needed adjustments but not without some patience from their families, their customers and from themselves.

As our restaurants struggle to find their footing in all of this as we are ourselves, we need to exhibit some patience.

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