Local restaurants face significant industry changes amid COVID-19 pandemic

Community restaurants adapt to new service modifications to keep their kitchens and doors open.

Gabby Delpleash and Madelyn Welch

The restaurant industry has seen some of the most notable changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; the National Restaurant Association predicts a loss of a staggering $240 billion from restaurants nationwide by the end of 2020. From online orders to curbside pickups, local food joints have been forced to take on a new set of safety measures that go beyond basic sanitation guidelines.

As the constant threat of spreading viral germs looms over the heads of business owners on a daily basis, Sharks Bar & Grill management supervisor Jeff Johnson has made building cleanliness a new top priority for his personnel.

“All of our staff have face masks; we’re required to wear face masks the entire time. Our menus are wiped down after every use and our hand-washing and sanitation has just increased [immensely] with the way we clean our tables,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s complied with [our new guidelines] really well.”

Junior Ella Tow, who works as a server at Lenexa’s new Chick-Fil-A, feels that health concerns regarding in-person dining at local restaurants has given way to the rising business seen in take-out services.

“Chick-Fil-A has gained more business since the start of the whole [COVID-19] pandemic.The drive-throughs are definitely the busiest. Our drive-through has three rounds of busyness: a morning rush, a lunch rush, and dinner rush,” Tow said. “We also do mobile orders, so you can park in a parking spot and we’ll run the order out, but I still think that the drive through is very popular and very busy.”

With resuming operations in the kitchen, the CDC has offered a plethora of considerations for ways in which restaurant operators can protect employees, customers, and communities to slow the spread of COVID-19. For Johnson, collaborating with state and local health officials to implement necessary sanitation adjustments was a fairly straightforward process.

“For any of our employers who come down ill, it’s an instant stay-at-home. You’re required to have a COVID test, and it’s required that the test is a negative test before you can return to work,” Johnson said. “We instantly send anyone home that has a temperature or is feeling ill or calls in and says they’re ill; even if it’s not a COVID-related sickness or how they’re feeling sick isn’t related to the main symptoms of COVID.”

Restaurant workers like senior Sophie Hannam have been privileged enough to experience only a couple of minor setbacks to her job as a server at Sutera’s Italian Restaurant.

“A normal shift for me is walking into the restaurant, making sure I’m wearing a mask, then going to the kitchen and washing my hands in order for me to set up the salad bar,” Hannam said. “…after everyone has left we make sure to clean up. I clean the nozzles on the soda machine, clean silverware, clean the tea bin, etc.”

When restaurants opened back up in May, many people were uneasy about going out to eat. Sophomore Lane Burson and his family were very cautious at first but that quickly wore off.

“When we first started to eat out again I was a little nervous,” Burson said. “Now I don’t really think about it.”

Though the spread of COVID-19 has brought about unpleasant circumstances to small businesses and restaurants around the Johnson County area, Johnson feels that Sharks has been rather fortunate.

“We’re a different kind of animal, because of our size we weren’t impacted as much in terms of [restaurant occupancy],” Johnson said. “We’re large enough that it didn’t really [hurt] our numbers from the previous years. Other places are small and there wasn’t much six foot distancing happening in those bars. Overall, this hasn’t been as financially devastating to us as it’s been to a lot of other places in this industry. We’ve been fortunate; it comes from our owners, our general managers, they’ve put protocols in place that allowed us to be able to be successful and stay open.”

 

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