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COVID-19 forcing constant reassessment for restaurants

Molly Hulsey //March 17, 2020//

COVID-19 forcing constant reassessment for restaurants

Molly Hulsey //March 17, 2020//

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Upstate restaurants face a moving target as they respond to constant updates on state and federal protocol for mitigating the spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus.

After the Trump administration recommended gatherings of no more than 10 people and called for closing restaurants in virus transmission areas, two local restaurant groups are among those attempting to carry on business with recommended precautions as they await word from local and state leaders.

Some area restaurants are working to keep tables empty, but not too empty. (Photo/Provided)After Carl Sobocinski, founder and president of Table 301 Restaurant Group, met with Mayor Knox White and restaurant industry leaders Tuesday morning, Sobocinski determined that all dining rooms at Table 301 restaurants will remain open unless local or state governments mandate otherwise, according to Table 301’s press representative, Taryen Scher.

Scher said today these decisions could change in a matter of hours, but for now even if dining rooms close, some Table 301 restaurants, such as Table 301 Catering & Kitchen and Southern Pressed Juicery, will offer take-out options. Table 301 restaurants currently do not offer a delivery service but are assessing in-house delivery opportunities. Southern Pressed Juicery customers have been purchasing large quantities of cold press juices in an effort to “be healthy and stay healthy,” Scher said.

In a press conference on Monday, President Trump discouraged groups of more than 10 from gathering. According to a press statement, “in states with evidence of community transmission, bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms and other indoor and outdoor venues where groups of people congregate should be closed.”

“Everything that is coming down from the government is taken very seriously,” Scher said, but she emphasized that her company also has to think about the financial wellbeing of its employees.

She said Table 301 is undertaking stringent measures to prevent the spread of infection among customers and employees — such as seating customers only at every third table — and that most dining rooms are less than 50% full.

Employees who have vacation time or sick leave, or who are not sustaining their family, have been encouraged to be the first to stay home, she said.

Last week, Upstate Eggs Up Grill locations, based in Spartanburg but individually-owned and operated, transitioned to paper menus and one-use condiments. They also directed customers to third-party delivery options. Monday, locations in Anderson and Greenville offered free meals to feed out-of-school children awaiting the set-up of a district meal distribution system.

Today, after area schools started meal distribution plans and in response the president’s calls to close restaurants in community transmission areas, Eggs Up Grill discontinued the free meal service.

“This was intended to be a ‘fill-the-gap’ measure while districts figured out how they were going to feed these children in need,” said Laura Boules, the marketing manager of Eggs Up Grill. “We’re highly sensitive to the fact that government officials are really discouraging crowds from gathering and we really don’t want to create a situation in our restaurants where we are driving people into our dining rooms.”

At this time, she said, Eggs Up will not close its dining room to customers unless instructed to do so by government, but the company is continuing to push third-party delivery options with franchisees and customers.

“We plan to maintain cleanliness and sanitization and ensuring the guests have plenty of space when dining in,” she said. “We just want to make sure that we are doing our part to keep everyone healthy.”

The S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association forwarded a news release published on Monday by the National Restaurant Association, noting that the national organization is engaging the Trump administration on “the many ways in which we service communities — drive-through, carry-out, delivery, etc.” The National Restaurant Association said it is developing resources for state partners to lobby governors and local officials to “minimize state shutdown efforts or to note alternatives to dine-in.”

A local statement from the state association says that it is communicating with governmental and public health officials on the best course of action as the outbreak develops.