Last evening, March 17, 2020, Nevada’s Governor Steve Sisolak, in response to the fast-moving coronavirus pandemic, ordered the shutdown of all non-essential businesses. This shutdown order required all restaurants and bars to close their sit-down dining and drinking. The restaurant business is now limited to takeout orders and delivery. The fate of these businesses is uncertain.
Nationwide, restaurant shutdowns are becoming commonplace. According to eater.com, patronage is down 64 percent compared to this time last year. Restaurants, large and small, are reeling from the economic impacts caused by the rapid spreading of the virus and the public’s choice to shelter-in-place.
The restaurant, Gather Carson City, opened in 2018. Gather’s owner, restaurateur Angela Bullentini Wolf brought a farm-to-table restaurant serving local fresh foods to a renewed downtown corridor. Gather was and continues to be a hit.
Gather has taken major steps in advance of the Governor’s order to adjust to the new reality facing her business.
“We have been looking at both a short term plan and a long term plan. The short term plan for right now, we’re doing takeout only. We’re offering curbside pickup. We’ll take your food out to your vehicle so you don’t have to come in. We will probably reduce our menu a bit to the most popular dishes on our menu.”
Restaurant workers depend on tips. Wait staff try to “turn over” tables at least two, maybe three times, in one night for a successful shift. Some wait staff pool their tips to share with busboys and bartenders. Kitchen workers are salaried.
“We’re reducing our staff hours,” said Wolf. “I’m speaking to everybody. There are some folks who are volunteering to not be put on the schedule for a week or two. Then there are other folks who are not in as flexible a position to do that. But where I’m reducing everybody’s hours, I’m trying to make sure that people do get hours so that they still have some income coming in.”
Revenue from curbside takeout and delivery remains the only sales producing option left for restaurants and their wait staff. It remains to be seen if it will produce enough business to head off closures.
Delivery service for Wolf is another option. “Yes, that is definitely something I’m considering. Getting it up and running is going to take some logistics, getting the right insurance programs and licenses.”
Some of Wolf’s employees are already sheltering at home. “Others are just trying to limit their contact with each other, but they still need to come into work to earn a wage and make ends meet for their families.”
Wolf exudes a calm confidence that Gather Carson City will make it through this difficult period.
Wolf is also a realist. She’s been in touch with Nevada’s unemployment insurance office to learn more about benefits that might help her employees.
“Right now I am hoping to avoid layoffs. Our staff has generally been pretty lean. What I’m hoping that will work for my staff is to reduce their hours a bit, but distribute the available hours between everybody. Then, if somebody needs to get a second job or something to supplement the hours that’s available to them, but I’m hoping not to make any cuts.”
This shutdown also forces restaurants to address the issue of perishable foodstuffs on hand: meats, fish, vegetables, bread, butter, cheese. “Some of our items are “freezable.” If we’re facing some spoilage, the plan is to cook it all and then reach out to the different shelters around town and see if we can donate it.
“As far as the long term plan we will reduce our menu options. We’ll be ordering less food and having a couple of fewer options available for people just so that we don’t face spoilage issues.”
Wolf has contacted her landlord to pursue accommodation on rent.
“I have already reached out to the landlord and am hopeful that some kind of assistance can be provided in that regard.”
In the time Gather has been open, the restaurant has cultivated a devoted customer base. She’ s confident in their enduring support.
“It’s so early. I haven’t had a whole lot of dialogue with them. Today is the first day that we’ve started this takeout only program. I think that people will be happy to still be able to get the food they love and that they want to order. I think they feel safe using the curbside pickup format that we set up. But, I think everybody feels disjointed. People’s regular routines have been interrupted.”
The Carson City health inspector stopped by on Monday. “He wanted to make sure that we were all wearing gloves. We are all wearing gloves. Last Saturday I had a drafted cleaning and sanitization program for everybody here at the restaurant. I gave a copy to the health inspector so he knows what we’re doing to make the restaurant safer for our employees.
“Most importantly, my employees understand what we’re doing and why we are doing it and are behind the changes that we’re making.”