Safety at “Steak”: Restaurants adapt to COVID-19 restrictions
While innumerable businesses have been forced to close during the COVID-19 quarantine, restaurants have been allowed to remain open, but with restrictions enforced. Many restaurants have adapted to serving with minimal contact, however, this doesn’t mean business in this climate is automatically booming.
The Branding Iron Steakhouse, Belle Fourche, South Dakota
The Branding Iron Steakhouse in Belle Fourche has adapted to the quarantine demands, however, owner Toni Moncur said they are doing less than 50 percent of the business they were prior. They’ll keep pushing on, she said, and find ways to creatively serve the customers.
“We’ve had a lot of take-out orders,” Moncur said. “They’re staying home and not going out to eat and pushing the envelope.”
Her employees have naturally weeded themselves out to a manageable number given the minimized work load. Many were college students attending Black Hills State University who have returned home due to termination of on-campus classes, saving Moncur from having to make any cuts.
Several customers who have missed the fine dining experience received at The Branding Iron Steakhouse have found a way to get the same experience while keeping safe distances.
“Some people pulled in and had us deliver to their living quarters horse trailer one week, and the next, it was a stock trailer. They just had a table set in there and ate out there,” Moncur said. “They could still dine-in, still be able to sit down and enjoy a meal.”
In addition to smaller adaptations, such as transitioning entirely to to-go orders, restaurants within the Texas Roadhouse chain have enacted larger temporary changes. Following their own company desire to support and better their towns, Texas Roadhouse has supported workers on the frontline helping those affected by the virus where possible through provided home-cooked meals, supporting employees through “Roadie bonuses” and refraining from having to make cuts, said Travis Doster, vice-president of communication with Texas Roadhouse. The CEO Kent Taylor made the decision to forego his salary and bonus and was followed by several other executives within the company, Doster said.
“We’ve delivered food to frontline employees and nurses at the hospitals, fire stations, and police stations,” Doster said. “In this case, we can’t find a cure; we can’t help those victims, but we can feed those who are trying to do that.”
Prior to the pandemic, less than 10 percent of Texas Roadhouse’s orders were to-go. Now, 100 percent is to-go, which has posed a small challenge in terms of to-go supplies. The company is adjusting, and they have had very few issue sourcing food, meaning that one item in particular has been a real draw for guests.
“We have had a lot of demand for purchasing our ready-to-grill steaks,” Doster said. “We already have a meat cutter in every location, so that has been phenomenal.”
Governors across the states have allowed for the selling of raw meat through restaurants to be permitted to help alleviate protein shortages in grocery stores. Some Texas Roadhouse locations are also setting up a farmer’s market of sorts, selling produce alongside steaks, as well as offering family value packs, a home-cooked meal that serves four to six.
Extra measures have been set up to ensure the chance of exposure is minimized. To start, Roadhouse employees work in shifts with the same employees. If one employee presents with Corona symptoms, all staff from that shift would be vetted or quarantined. The expected practices are also in place, such as face masks, glasses, gloves, and six feet between people, but employees have found ways to insert joy into the regulations.
“Our employees have put smiley faces on masks, or they’re doing cool designs. In this time, seeing employees that are happy and have a lot of energy makes people feel good,” Doster said. “One store wrote hearts on the floor, so everyone would stand in their heart, six feet apart. We rolled out a program called ‘legendary service, six feet apart’.”
While sanitization is nothing new to the restaurant industry, Texas Roadhouse has heightened its practices. Pens are sanitized after each use, and, if desired, employees place to-go orders directly into a trunk or backseat of a vehicle.
“A lot of people say restaurants are a luxury, but I think we’ve realized that’s not necessarily the case. It’s a big part of the food supply,” Doster said. “I think guests have really appreciated our early efforts in safety.”
The Outpost, Lusk, Wyoming
Much like Texas Roadhouse, The Outpost Café in Lusk, Wyoming, has found a way to provide groceries and supplies to their customers. The town with only one grocery store has experienced several outages despite efforts to keep the shelves stocked, so The Outpost has stepped forward as a secondary source.
“We just ordered a few extra things for groceries, stuff that we noticed the grocery store has been out of and hard to get,” said manager Shadow Smith. “We’ve just been trying to offer it here.”
Patrons within Niobrara County, the least populated in the state of Wyoming, have taken advantage of the staple offerings, such as flour, eggs, gravy, beef, bacon, and bread, and The Outpost has expanded to take-out orders and delivery, a service not offered prior to the quarantine. Online ordering or calling in are also options.
“We’re offering free delivery right now so that people aren’t scared to come out, and we have thermal bags we use for delivery,” Smith said. “We’ve all taken ServSafe courses, and we wear gloves and masks when in contact with other people less than six feet away.”
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