Restaurants as we knew them are no more.
As eateries across Delaware have been restricted to takeout and delivery since mid-March, restaurateurs are looking toward what the future might look like when diners can sit down again. Whether that includes socially distanced tables, disposable menus or temperature checks, one thing is unanimous: health and safety is the number one priority.
“If you aren’t putting health first, it doesn’t matter,” says Vincenza Carrieri-Russo, part owner of V&M Bistro in Wilmington.
Carrieri-Russo opened the restaurant with her sister Margherita in 2014. As third generation restaurateurs, the sisters listened to the restrictions and began modifying their business model. Within a day, the upscale Italian restaurant transformed into an old school pizzeria.
“[It was] a complete change overnight,” Carrieri-Russo says.
Putting cleaning and disinfecting at the forefront was never an issue, as Carrieri-Russo says restaurants are trained in food safety and high health standards. But, other changes to meet the new safety requirements was where creativity came into play.
V&M created a socially distanced line for food pickup and adjusted the menu to only offer items they knew would still be up to their standards in takeout form. She also offers every person a new, complimentary pen to sign for their orders and take home. Every staff member wears a mask and gloves.
The number one priority is to still give people a high quality experience with safety at the forefront, she says.
When restrictions do lift, she says V&M will listen to whatever requirements are necessary. This could mean taking attendance at the door, socially distanced tables and a reservation-heavy approach to dining.
“We’re all brainstorming,” she says.
Robbie Jester, High 5 Hospitality culinary director and Full Circle Foods chef, agrees that the dining experience will be different. Along with processes like disposable menus and temperature taking, customers may need to prepare for menus with limited options as finding certain ingredients has become difficult, especially meat proteins.
“The supply chain is broken,” he says.
Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop built its business on takeout and catering, but CEO Ashley Morris knows going forward, more changes will have to happen to make customers feel safe.
This could include spaced out dining rooms to make even the most high-risk population comfortable to sit down, social distancing and continuing the highest level of sanitation. With their catering orders, the sandwich shop is preparing to roll out individual lunch boxes so no one touches each other’s food and wrapping each sandwich on a catering tray in its own packaging.
But, Morris says one of the largest tasks restaurants will have is making their customer base feel safe enough to return. Otherwise, there is the risk of losing them to a competitor who has a better health and safety plan. And at this point in time, that could be detrimental as many eateries are seeing a large decrease in sales with only takeout and delivery.
Regardless of how a restaurant adjusts to any procedures to come as restrictions lift or change, the way dining looks will drastically change.
“I think you’re going to see tremendous evolution,” he says.
But, Jester feels there is a silver lining to all this: a return to a higher level of hospitality. He says many who work in the restaurant industry will feel grateful and not expectant of customer business, and thankful that those sales keep their doors open.
“[We] can’t just go through the motions,” he says.