Caught between COVID-19, curfews and protest marches restaurants have been experiencing a double squeeze. Just when COVID-19 restrictions were starting to ease, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall slapped an 8 pm curfew on the city, inspired by one afternoon and evening of riotous behavior followed by peaceful protests. She lifted that curfew to the relief of local—especially downtown—restaurants and businesses. But some are still suffering because of the regular protests, even though they support the cause. Over the next few days, we’ll be talking to restaurant owners about how they’re coping with multiple crises.
“We were hanging on by a nail and she (Mayor Mendenhall) brought out the nail clipper,” he says about the recent curfew requiring everyone to be off the streets by 8 p.m.
“We are open for business, but there’s only 17 percent occupancy at downtown businesses. We got rid of lunches—it wasn’t financially worth it. We only did 31 covers last night. Then they closed 400 South because of the marches without any notice to the business-owners.”
McCarthy says the curfew was too late and too extreme. “The trouble had already happened and there should have been considerations for diners in restaurants,” he says. He thinks the community should have been included in the decision-making. “While it was in effect, it took half our business.”
However, that’s over for now. Good for Mayor Mendenhall.
Unfortunately, restrictions on crowds and the number of guests allowed in a restaurant will continue for the time being. The number of COVID-19 cases in Utah is still rising.
McCarthy says he’s lucky, because he owns his own buildings. Other, newer restaurateurs may not be so fortunate.
“When this started, I told my team, ‘Don’t get sad, get innovative.’
So while his inside dining revenue shrank, he turned to other ways of making his space work for him.
“When I started my restaurants, I measured the square footage. I thought, I can only make money inside these walls.”
But he has expanded his walls, and even after virus precautions have loosened, he will continue to expand the parameters of his business.
“I think curbside will continue,” he says. I’m not in a rut. I can change. Rent the place, fill in with catering. I want to start our own delivery service—the services like Grubhub eat into our profit. I want to hire my own drivers, have them project the image of the restaurant, dress the way I want them to, use biodegradable containers, etc.”
McCarthy wants to deliver family meals via e-bike, develop an app that stores credit card info so ordering is seamless.
“The big problem with curbside pick up and delivery is that diners miss out on a huge part of the restaurant experience—there’s no ambiance. For restaurants like Stoneground Kitchen and The Garage, the experience is important.”
But, he says, “Restaurants are going to have to change.”
Best case scenario: He’ll get back to normal traffic in the restaurant and add the curbside dollars.
“I’m done with fear,” he says. “The only option is to adapt and be better than you were before. I feel like I was pushed off a cliff and my wings sprouted and I flew.”
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