How do you sustain a business while protecting customers and staff from COVID-19?
Peter Clifton, managing partner for Ready Room, 2626 White Oak Dr., and Ritual, 602 Studewood St., said that is the challenge the restaurant industry is facing right now.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded to the recent rise of COVID-19 cases by signing a new executive order last Friday, June 26, that forced bars to close and restaurants to scale back their dining room capacities. They are not allowed to exceed 50 percent of their listed building occupancies after previously being permitted to use up to 75 percent.
“It’s a double-edged sword. It’s the right thing to do considering the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in Texas,” Clifton said. “However, it definitely feels defeating as any industry cannot survive repeating openings and closures.”
With uncertainty surrounding the disease caused by the new coronavirus and the restaurant industry, Clifton said it’s difficult to keep staff on board, sustain revenue and offset expenses.
Despite the challenge, Clifton recognized that at the end of the day, the industry needs people to be well in order to survive.
“As a restaurant/bar operator, the toughest variable to control are people,” Clifton said. “While all restaurants/bars are doing their best to promote safe practices, the one variable we cannot control is where they go after work, who they come into contact with after work. We cannot tell people where to go and who to see, but it does play a crucial role in establishments being able to survive.”
John Reed of BCK, 933 Studewood St., said he understands why Abbott’s order is necessary but believes singling out restaurants and bars is hypocritical.
“You have ‘essential’ food service industries plowing ahead and construction crews retro-fitting various city projects by the hundreds,” Reed said. “This is a no-win for anyone in government and for small business owners.”
The order only scales back occupancy at restaurants, but Clifton expects for it to go back to “ground zero,” which means dining rooms being completely closed, and he is preparing for that.
As for voluntarily closing the dining rooms before a potential order makes that mandatory, both Clifton and Reed see it as not being a viable option for their businesses.
Reed said he sees the value in such an act. But if only BCK or a handful of businesses did it, it would put them at a disadvantage.
“Closing down your establishment due to an employee contracting COVID-19 is costly,” Clifton said. “So depending on your establishment size, it may prove beneficial to just provide take out and close the establishment for dine in, if you can sustain the operating expenses and generate decent revenue.”
As a managing partner for Ready Room, a cocktail bar, Clifton knows what it’s like having to close, reopen and reclose an establishment. He said it’s frustrating.
“We take all measures to provide a safe environment for our community,” Clifton said. “It’s uncharted waters and it can feel personal with bars being targeted and viewed the primary cause of the recent COVID-19 outbreak.”
With this challenge also comes growth. Restaurant and bar owners are forced to open new horizons in their business and break out of their comfort zone.
As a business, Clifton said Ready Room will have to find other ways to keep bringing in revenue to stay alive. Per Abbott’s order, bars and similar businesses that receive more than 51 of their gross receipts from alcohol sales can remain open but are limited to delivery and to-go services.
“There is no other choice and we refuse to accept defeat,” he said. “Hopefully we will make it through this round.”