The initial meeting exploring the formation of a restaurant owners association attracted representatives of some popular local eateries.
A few Marion County restaurant owners got together recently to discuss forming a local restaurant association in the face of COVID-19 pandemic-related struggles.
Owners from some popular local restaurants, including County Line Smokehouse & Spirits, Craft Cuisine, Latinos y Mas and La Cuisine, met at Mainstreet Community Bank of Florida in downtown Ocala. They immediately started sharing their “war stories” of navigating an industry tossed topsy-turvy by the new coronavirus.
Those stories led to suggestions from others who shared how they dealt with issues as diverse as whether to charge a COVID-19 service fee, to what kind of to-go boxes work best.
The meeting laid bare the many struggles every restaurant is dealing with. Always a high-pressure industry, the added stress of rising food prices, enforcing social distancing, formulating a take-out order system and a host of other issues has made every day a challenge.
Mother’s Day overwhelmed many of them.
“When you’ve got the phone ringing off the hook, and people are driving up to pick up orders, it gets insane. I had to stop taking orders,” said Kathy Funk, owner of Pasta Faire in Belleview.
For Janice Thomas, it was her husband Tim’s, 50% off deal for takeout orders at Brooklyn’s Backyard that broke her.
It came just after the initial closing order in late March. The orders flooded in, and the kitchen could not keep up.
“This was before social distancing. So I had a vacant restaurant full of dissatisfied people (picking up take-out orders). After three hours, I cried like a baby. Like a child. I sobbed,” she said.
While things are now running more smoothly, curbside pickup is not enough to make a profit.
“You can’t take your dine-in and turn it into a takeout success. You can pay your bills. That’s about it,” said Janice Thomas.
Even with restaurants now allowed to open at 50% capacity, dine-in customers are still wary.
Every owner said they are trying to do everything they can to put customers at ease, including having servers wear face masks, switching to paper menus and disinfecting tables between every guest.
Funk said she installed foot pedals on the bathroom doors, so people don’t have to open them with their hands.
In addition to exchanging ideas, they also hope to eventually use a local restaurant group to speak with a single voice to vendors and legislators.
Tim and Janice Thomas are spearheading the effort.
“We must be the only county in Florida that doesn’t have some sort of restaurant association,” Tim Thomas said.
At Thursday’s meeting, they agreed to start meeting once a month to continue discussions about what a formal organization would look like. They floated a tentative name of Restaurant Owners Association of Marion County for the group.
Contact Carlos E. Medina at 867-4157 or [email protected]
Source: Thanks https://www.ocala.com/business/20200523/restaurant-owners-of-marion-county-seek-to-unite