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Dear Restaurant Guru,
Dining out has always been my favorite form of entertainment and I’d love to go back out and enjoy myself. How can I know restaurants are working safely and feel justified taking the risk?
Daring to Dine Out Again
Dear Daring to Dine Out Again,
I’ve been in the hospitality business for over 20 years. Throughout that time, none of us have endured challenges like what the restaurant industry faces today. Staying home might be the best solution to reduce the risk of contracting the virus, but we also know that, with no end in sight, we have to adapt. Measures like the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association’s Count on Me NC initiative, where restaurants and their staff commit to health and wellness checks and enhanced sanitation and cleaning practices, will go a long way in ensuring customers’ safety.
Last year, I helped open Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing. My role was to hire and train a team, build a beverage menu and manage day-to-day operations until Wye Hill could hire a permanent replacement. I moved on once the business was sure-footed to run on its own.
When the stay-at-home order was announced in March, all restaurants and bars had to close. On May 22, our state’s Phase 2 guidelines were released and I distinctly remember sitting on my couch, feeling sorry for restaurant people who had to deal with re-opening. Not long after, I received a text from my buddy who owns Wye Hill, asking if I would rejoin the team.
I considered the task of reopening during a pandemic a challenge. How do we practice social distancing, ensure the health of our employees and guests, while creating a fun and entertaining business? Oh, and also try to be profitable? That’s the big question.
Wye Hill has the benefit of a large patio overlooking the downtown skyline. Outside dining is important right now. With fewer tables and a spread-out floor plan, we need volume and efficiency to make this work.
First, we set up two dedicated roles, which we call “sales” and “service,” that help reduce cross-contamination. “Sales” operate similar to traditional servers, taking orders, processing payment and clearing plates and glassware. The “sales” team has zero interaction with food and drinks. That role goes to the “service” team. “Service’s” sole responsibility is to deliver food and drinks to our patio diners and takeout/curbside delivery to guests, so the person delivering your food doesn’t pick up empty glasses from your table. Even glassware is cleaned and sanitized in the dish-pit; bartenders don’t clean glasses, they only make drinks. All of our employees wear masks and all food handlers wear gloves. By streamlining, we’ve become more efficient, needing fewer employees than pre-COVID. We’ll continue this practice when things go back to normal.
Second, everyone’s role is equally important, so pooling tips is essential. This allows us to truly be one team, one dream, a benefit to the guest because anyone can help at any time.
The food menu had to be streamlined because fewer people are allowed in the kitchen at once. We even outsourced our dessert program to support a new business, Bestow Baked Goods, to provide cupcakes, oatmeal cookie cream pies and four-layer cakes. That was one of the best decisions we made.
We are keeping the highest standards for your safety because we want you to feel safe, want you to come back and want to be in control of our future. It’s not for me to decide if you should dine at a restaurant but it sure as hell is my responsibility to ensure you, and all of our guests, feel at ease when you’re here. So, I hope to see you soon.
If you have a question about Raleigh’s restaurant/bar scene, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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