Gov. Doug Ducey has given restaurants the green light to resume dine-in service next week as long as they follow new sanitation regulations and ensure physical distancing between patrons, but some Tucson restaurateurs aren't sure they—or the public—are ready for the change.
“There will be more to follow on this but I want the restaurant industry to know that this is what’s going to happen next week,” Ducey said yesterday. “This is a safe and good option at this time and they’ll have a full week in which to prepare.”
Lindy Reilly, co-owner of Fire N’ Smoke Wood Fired Pizza and BBQ, is not so sure he’s ready to allow dine-in service. Reily isn’t as concerned about contracting COVID-19 as he is about the cost of restaffing his restaurant for a public already leery of take-out and delivery.
“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t know if I’ll be ready by Monday and I don’t know if we’ll do (dine-in) right away,” Reilly said. “If people already have an unforeseen fear of takeout food already, I don’t need that to compound.”
When Reily does open the doors to the public, he said his restaurant won’t return to full-service dining, instead opting for a fast-casual enviornment. It’s the limited capacity aspect that drives his decision to cut full service. “I just can’t afford the staff,” Reilly said.
“If you’re going to open and carry a full staff, you need a full-service restaurant to make that machine work,” said Reilly, who sees opening partially as a recipe for disaster. "I think you’re going to watch some restaurants fold.”
Ray Flores, king of the El Charro empire, said he was surprised by Gov. Ducey’s announcement since it allows restaurants to open a day earlier than the governor previously discussed.
“It kind of caught me off-guard, to be honest,” Flores said. “(Gov. Ducey) had came out and said he was going to work on something for potentially (May) 12, if not May 15.”
Flores is unsure of when they will reopen as they decide the best way to conduct business. In the meantime, the family developed a 100-point-plan to address future protocols from federal, state and local governing bodies, Flores said.
“Our group is going to walk before we run. We want to make sure that our restaurants are ready for our guests and that our crew members are safe, ” Flores said. “We’re releasing a 100-point plan to address best practices, new protocols, new sanitation practices to reopen stronger in light of the coronavirus shutdown.”
Down at Boca Tacos y Tequilla, Chef Maria Mazon said she is torn between wanting to reopen and wanting to keep the public safe after the governer’s announcement Monday.
“The owner in me...the responsible owner that has to pay bills is like, ‘The faster, the better,’” said Chef Maria Mazon, owner of Boca Tacos y Tequila. “But the concerned citizen in me doesn't want to risk my team, my customers or myself.”
For the moment, Mazon said she’ll wait to see what Mayor Regina Romero advises before making a move to reopen her establishment. However, she said the size of her restaurant is a “blessing” during this time of social distancing.
“I’m going to wait for our mayor to say it’s OK or to recommend reopening,” Mazon said. “I’ve been blessed enough that I have a large restaurant so I can continue with to-go’s while having five to 10 people inside, and another 10 people outside.”
Arizona Pizza Company and Upper Crust Pizza Owner Nick Heddings said he’s concerned about having to hire a dedicated employee whose sole purpose is to sanitize the seating area after each customer dines. While the practice may be standard at more formal restaurants, Heddings foresees issues in a fast-casual restaurant environment.
“Let’s just say there’s a line for the soda machine. Am I going to have to hire a new employee to clean in between each person getting a soda? That’s a pretty difficult one,” Heddings said. “It doesn’t take long to figure out all that (cost) comes straight out of my pocket and eventually the customer’s pocket.”
Heddings agrees with Reilly’s assessment of trying to restaff and resume the same business model once restaurants can offer dine-in service on Monday. If customers aren’t ready for dine-in service, restaffing could be devastating to a restaurant at this time.
“If you’re going to staff up and think the people are going to show up...I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Heddings said.