Retail food establishments are feeling the squeeze of dining-in prohibition during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some traditional sit-down restaurants tried switching to takeout only in recent weeks and it proved to be too rough of a transition to maintain for a few, whereas others are implementing first-time-ever delivery options to stay open.
T.J. Jenks, general manager of Montague’s restaurant in Greenwood, said the restaurant has decided to close completely until Montague’s is allowed to reopen its dining room.
“The support we’ve gotten the last couple of weeks has been awesome,” Jenks said. “We transitioned the business really fast to try and do online sales and curbside pickup. We wondered how long they would let restaurants continue to do this. So, we needed to look at what closing for a time would look like. We’re trying to make sure all of our employees can weather this. We’re definitely 100% certain we will be reopening our dining room as soon as they let us.”
Fortunately, Jenks said Montague’s cleared out its existing food inventory in past weeks with online sales and marketing social distancing kits complete with food and beverage, and even toilet paper.
“We reassessed Sunday whether we were going to reorder food and felt like it was just a bigger gamble,” Jenks said. “We felt like we would have been wasting money we are going to use to support our employees for the next whatever.”
Jenks said area restaurants are brainstorming during this time to find tangible ways to support local musicians who often play at their establishments.
Before it was mandated by Gov. Henry McMaster that restaurants cease dine-in service in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Jenks said take-out was only about 5% of Montague’s restaurant revenue.
“Trying to go from 5% to 100% take-out was just crazy for us,” Jenks said. “There’s a lot of other restaurants that are 50-60% takeout who are much more prepared to weather this than we are.”
Josh Curry, general manager of The Mill House in Greenwood said he and co-workers are trying to find new ways to keep the pizza restaurant and its adjoining brewery, Good Times Brewing, afloat.
“We’re definitely staying open,” Curry said. “A lot of food we serve does well in a take-out setting. Delivery in a limited radius from the restaurant is also an option we are exploring, via our online app only.”
The Mill House just rolled out Monday a new online ordering platform to boost social distancing during this time.
“You can order online and pay online,” Curry said. “It’s one less person-to-person, face-to-face transaction between cash to somebody’s hand to a register and back and forth. It’s also really convenient.”
Curry admitted beer sales at Good Times Brewing are down, but there are to-go beer sale options available.
In addition to its regular menu, The Mill House is working to create family-sized take-and-bake meals to go, complete with ingredients and instructions. The restaurant is also looking at family pizza night kits, with dough balls and all the ingredients to make a pizza in-house. Plus, 18-inch pies that used to be available on Tuesday nights only are being made available daily, for lunch and dinner.
“We’ve got it made for you,” Curry said. “All you do is turn your oven on and put it in and hit start. I think it will be a full little twist on family dinner night. We get the burden this is putting on families now, with work and home-school and child care issues. Dinner is almost more stressful now.”
Discounts are being offered to public safety and hospital workers, too, Curry said.
For now, Curry said the restaurant’s food service suppliers are getting them the inventory they need.
“We’re repurposing our people as best we can, asking servers and hostesses to work take-away shifts with no dining in,” Curry said. “None of us are making the same paycheck we used to make before, but our goal is for our people to still be able to put food on their tables and keep a roof over their heads. Family takes care of family when there is a crisis going on.”
Melissa Macias Corbin, of La Hacienda in Greenwood, said the Mexican restaurant understands the importance of social distancing right now, especially for families with members who might be in at-risk categories for COVID-19.
“Every day, you see that numbers of people being infected keep rising,” Corbin said, noting they are now offering delivery within a five-mile radius of the La Hacienda at 515 S.C. Bypass 72, between 5 and 8 p.m., for orders of $20 or more, plus a $3 delivery fee.
“Our staff’s health is equally important,” Corbin wrote via email to the Index-Journal. “If we determine that doing deliveries is a potential health risk, we will, of course, have to forgo delivery and possibly consider shutting down all together. We are hopeful none of that will have to happen.”