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Small Biz Insider: Restaurant Owners on Reopening Plans

Published May 13, 2020 by Maggie Martin

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In this two-part edition of Small Biz Insider, we talk with two Houston restaurateurs about their reopening plans. 

While many Houston restaurants have been operating with just takeout and delivery for nearly two months, not all are reopening for dine-in customers at the same time. Some reopened when Texas Governor Greg Abbott's first phase took effect May 1. Per the state order, restaurants can reopen to customers at a maximum of 25% of normal listed occupancy, and with social distancing. Others have waited to do so closer to the next major phase of the governor's plan on May 18. 

Our guests: 

On deciding when to reopen in-dining services

Jarrett: I think it was the natural progression for us to pursue with all of the other things we had been doing with delivery and curbside pickup and takeout. We have a multilevel business upstairs and downstairs. We decided to not allow guests downstairs except for to pickup and to run our delivery services out of there. In our upstairs dining room we had space that met the requirements and spread guests out six feet apart.

We're trying to stay in business. It's a really, really difficult time. Things change day by day. We want to get people back to work and try to figure out how to serve our guests in the safest way possible and keep the doors open. 

Vaught: We're going to phase [our restaurants] in one at a time for a variety of reasons, but I think Hugo's and we will probably do it around [May] 14th or 15th because we want to get our feet wet in the 25% and then go into the 50%. Backstreet is doing some repairs and that's going to take a little bit of time, so that will probably be Monday. I think Caracol would be next, but we're not sure when that will be. Xochi we just don't know. We don't have a timeline for that one. 

On preparing employees and customers for reopening

Jarrett: On the first day we opened on May 1, we were able to share with our guests everything that we were doing, including [hand sanitizing] stations, including masks that our staff would be wearing, seating six feet apart, guests aren't allowed to sit six at a table. We gave our guests the option to order online from their own phones at the table. We also gave guests the option of using 100% disposables if they didn't want to eat off or our properly sanitized plates. 

Vaught: All of the employees are currently wearing masks and gloves, so we'll continue with that. We changed the floor plans to make sure we have distance between each table and that we're complying with the 25% and then 50% rule. We have sanitation stations on different sides of doors so people can use those to touch the handle and we have a sanitation team so they can clean both bathrooms on a regular basis. Currently, we try not to let anyone into the restaurants while we're doing our to-go and delivery, just our employees, so we can keep the restaurants pristine for them. 

On response from customers to reopening

Jarrett: Our guests really just wanted to have some human interaction, have someone cook for them, have service. We started shifting what we were doing day by day by day. We learned they don't really want to eat off a disposable plate right now. They trust that our dish machines that are serviced properly are going to give them a clean plate. So the response from our regular guests has been terrific. And then I think some people are just not going to eat out for a while because they don't feel like it's time for them. I think that's okay, too. 

On advice for other restaurants and small businesses as they reopen

Jarrett: Every business has to have its own plan. That is the personnel that's carrying out the operational plan. It may not be 100% perfect that first time you try it but you're going to learn, shift and be nimble. For us I think the biggest challenge, and probably for a lot of other small businesses is finding staff to work. We want to get everyone back to work and that they want to come back to work. But reopening certainly shouldn't be taken lightly. It's not for everyone depending on your space and what you're offering. It's up to the individual business to try to determine that and do it within the rules and do what's right for their business. 

Vaught: I think safety would be the main concern for reopening. I think all of us have seen the guidelines about mask-wearing and how if both people wear masks it's much safer than if one does and the other doesn't. I think if guests are walking around the restaurant on the way to the restroom, coming in, or going out, they should wear a mask. That would keep the employees safe. 

Click here for more COVID-19 resources for small businesses. Visit the Partnership's COVID-19 Resource page for updates, guidance for employers and more information. And sign up for email alerts from the Partnership as the situation develops. 

The Small Biz Insider podcast is part of our digital series highlighting entrepreneurs in the greater Houston region who are making a big impact in the small business community. 

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