Restaurants face new normal as some COVID-19 lockdowns ease

Posted at 3:08 PM, May 01, 2020

At Johnny D’s Waffles and Benedicts, the kitchen may be hot, but the dining area is stone cold.

“We were having a really good March,” said chef and restaurant owner Jamie Daskalis. “It dropped big time.”

She said, even with offering takeout, business at her Myrtle Beach, S.C. restaurant is down 90 percent. All but one of her 30 employees are out of a job, along with 8 million others who work in restaurants across the country.

“Everyone else, unfortunately, is laid off,” Daskalis said.

Indoor dining is still off the table in South Carolina, but as the governor begins allowing more businesses to reopen, some are prepping for the day when diners may be allowed back inside.

“I have been preparing in my brain what I want to do,” Daskalis said.

Some ideas she has include:

- Removing condiments and napkin dispensers from tables
- Giving each guest a disposable, paper menu
- Having guests wait outside to be seated
- Spacing out tables to comply with social distancing

Fewer tables, though, ultimately means accommodating fewer customers and less revenue.

“I think that the profit margin is going to be even slimmer,” Daskalis said. “But I just want to make enough to pay bills and you know keep my employees employed.”

Getting employees back won’t be instantaneous, however.

“They have to bring them back. Then, they have to train them,” said Karen Riordan, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. “Then, they have to make sure they have all the right hand-sanitizer and protocols in the restaurant industry.”

At the federal level, some members of the coronavirus task force are cautioning about reopening businesses too quickly, like restaurants.

“If there’s a way that people can social distance and do those things, then they can do those things,” Dr. Deborah Birx said during a coronavirus task force news conference on April 21. “I don’t know how, but people are very creative.”

Yet, there are fears that not every restaurant will survive the coronavirus pandemic, and that when this is all over, the restaurant scene we’ve become accustomed to will look very different.

“I'm nervous for some restaurants here,” Daskalis said, adding that she hopes Johnny D’s will still be left standing. “I just want to be here for when this is done.”