Texas was one of the first states to allow restaurants to reopen at 25 percent capacity. We talked to two foodservice operators with varied restaurant concepts about the challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic and how they’ve been able to triumph in spite of them. Although the reopening process is new and evolving slowly, restaurants can learn from each other to succeed:
Jon Bonnell, Executive Chef and Owner of The Bonnell’s Restaurant Group, has been in business in Fort Worth since 2001. He has two fine dining concepts and one casual dining concept with two locations.
As the laws changed—and continue to change—Bonnell has always thought about what types of food best fit his customers’ needs.
“I spent a day really thinking about it…what can we do? What’s going to work?” said Bonnell. “For the fine dining restaurants, I very quickly said… ‘We need to abandon our entire concept of fine dining… Everybody wanted that, it was luxury, but now people just need to eat, and they have to stay home to do it’.”
Instead of offering items like Quail & Mushroom Pasta or Pepper-Crusted Buffalo Tenderloin, Bonnell tasked his chefs with creating meals that would serve a family of four for a total of $40. Bonnell posts the meal for each day on their Facebook post and starts handing them out curbside starting at 4pm. As soon as the word got out, the cars started lining up as far as the eye could see.
“We started handing out the food on the curb, so the line of cars shows up and we hand out 500 people worth of food in an hour and 20 minutes,” said Bonnell. “We can literally have cars lined up for a mile.”
Bonnell also offers beer, wine, liquor, ice cream and extra cuts of meat as add-ons.
“Within the first week, we realized…this is gonna work as far as the number of people that want it…and they’re still doing it, we’re still selling out every night. We make between 450 and 750 family dinners a night,” said Bonnell.
“We’re gonna stick with our curbside. As long as [customers] are still using it and they still want it, we’ll keep doing this for a long time,” said Bonnell.
Bonnell wants his customers to return to his fine dining rooms when they can get the experiences they’ve come to expect when they’ve sat down in the past, however, he was ready to reopen the dining room of his casual concept, Buffalo Brothers.
“We’re doing the same menu, we might as well take a few tables and see if we can just add a little bit to our to-go food orders,” said Bonnell.
In order to welcome customers back to Buffalo Brothers as safely as possible, Bonnell has initiated everything that has been recommend and more:
“People walk in, we’re opening the door for you. We have sanitizer stations everywhere. Coming in the door, on the way out the door, at the bathroom, at the corner of the bar. Everybody that sits down sits at a blank table. There’s nothing on that table. No salt and pepper. No red chili flakes. No parmesan. All the things like ketchup that would normally be on the table. Nothing is there. We bring you a paper menu that’s a onetime use. Nobody is using any common containers of any kind. Everybody who’s serving is wearing a mask or a plastic shield and gloves and they’re changing them every single time.”
Although many things have changed, customers can still expect some of the familiar comforts they’ve gotten in the past.
“You can still drink out of a big, ol’ beer stein, which is a big schooner, and we pour it out and you got your nice frosty beer,” said Bonnell.
Luckily for Emel, he had already started using donut boxes for to-go containers, making his café’s popular sandwiches and fried food keep their quality better during transport. Emel’s business remained steady while dining rooms were shut down, but reopening has helped.
“[Reopening dining rooms] definitely made an impact. We’re fairly close to being back to normal. We were about 65 percent with the [curbside],” said Emel. “The reopening brought more drinkers. Basically, they come in and have a few drinks and get their food to-go and they leave.”
Similar to Bonnell, the tables at Emel’s restaurant kept sanitized and free from shared condiments. He also conveniently already had his menus displayed underneath plexiglass on each table. Although things are different, and will be different for a while, Emel said, “I think everybody is happy to be able to eat off a plate with silverware.”
There will be some growing pains in the reopening process, but restaurant operators will learn to adapt and do what is necessary to welcome customers back to their dining rooms. Mainstays like food safety have become even more important than they were previously and foodservice partners like Cambro are here to help support your operation during delivery, curbside and dining room service. To address your operation’s specific needs, contact your local Cambro rep.