About one month after many states started to reopen and allow restaurants to begin serving again, several restaurants are now reclosing in states including Florida, Texas, and Arizona where employees have contracted COVID-19. For most restaurants, these closures are temporary as they spend several days or up to one week week testing employees, sanitizing their restaurant, and ramping up health and safety measures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Park & Rec DTSP, an arcade/bar in Saint Petersburg, Florida announced on June 12 that they would be closing temporarily after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Park & Rec reopened on May 22, following Florida Governor Ron DeSantis reopening bars and restaurants at half-capacity on May 18. Since reopening, Park & Rec has advertised numerous bar events including bar games, live music, and karaoke, but has not publicly advertised on their social media pages the safety precautions they have put in place since reopening. The bar did not respond in time to request for comment.
“Out of an abundance of caution and to ensure the safety of our customers, we have temporarily closed Park & Rec DTSP to thoroughly sanitize our restaurant,” the bar said in a social media post on June 12. “Additionally, all of our staff is being tested for coronavirus.”
Another restaurant in Saint Petersburg, Florida, — The Galley — closed temporarily after reopening on May 4 after a staff member was diagnosed with coronavirus. They plan to reopen once all of their staff had been tested.
“I’m not sure exactly what went wrong but some of it is just being in hospitality business,” owner Pete Bolland told CNN. “We have a lot of tourists coming to Florida to escape the lockdown and people were confident in going out for awhile. Maybe it was overconfidence and passionate desire to go out and be among people. We can’t stay locked up forever.”
Bolland said that his advice to restaurants is to be “honest and forthright” and to be able to adapt quickly if a problem arises.
Some restaurants that have been forced to close due to coronavirus have taken the opportunity to step up their safety precautions. Hash Kitchen in Scottsdale, Arizona closed temporarily on June 11 after a person “with close contact to the restaurant” tested positive for coronavirus, and has plans to reopen on June 18.
The restaurant had originally reopened on May 14 and one Facebook commenter posted on Hash Kitchen’s page that when they visited Hash Kitchen, “inside was jammed packed with no social distancing. I stayed outside on the patio far away from it. Very irresponsible of the restaurant.” Currently, the state of Arizona does not require restaurnats to follow social distancing or capacity restrictions but does recommend maintaining social distancing with parties of no more than 10 people.
“We did reduce capacity by 50% but it’s a bigger restaurant and I think in terms of social distancing, we’re not saying no to larger groups that want to sit together,” Erica Knight, spokesperson for the Maggorie Group, the parent restaurant group of Hash Kitchen said in response to the customer complaint on Facebook. “We are keeping space between those groups as much as possible, people can sit together but in terms of my family vs. your family were being more cognizant of that.”
Knight said that before the restaurant had to be shut down, they had invested in a monthly deep-cleaning virus vaporizing service: an EPA-registered, nontoxic disinfectant that is sprayed throughout the whole restaurant and claims to kill most pathogens, including COVID-19 for up to 30 days. Before they were forced to shut down again, Hash Kitchen was going to be investing in this service once a month, but now they’re going to increase that to a weekly cleaning service, which will cost the restaurant group $7,000 per month to disinfect all of their locations.
She also said that in addition to adding the vaporizer service, they’ve also designated someone on staff to be their disinfector, who will wipe down and sanitize the restaurant throughout the day. They will also be purchasing coronavirus tests privately testing their employees once a week.
“It’s very expensive but not quite as expensive as shutting down your restaurant for a week,” Knight said, adding that when they had to shut down, they lost $30,000 in food that they had to throw away.
The cost of closing and reopening a restaurant once a positive case of coronavirus can be costly for a business, particularly for restaurants that are struggling to get back on their feet after two to three months of dining room closures.
Nick Kokonas, co-owner of The Alinea Group, tweeted this week that after an employee at one of their restaurants tested positive on June 1, 30 employees voluntarily got tested and were reimbursed for the procedure (costing the restaurant group $3,000 in total). Then, he said, more recently another employee was diagnosed with coronavirus and the company spent another $5,000 on testing.
“The system is actually working but it is not sustainable to shut operations every time an employee is sick or suspected of having COVID,” Kokonas tweeted.
He added that he cannot imagine that other restaurants where employees are not wearing PPE and are serving in tight spaces are “spending thousands to get proper testing and contact tracing done.”
“With carryout business we can limit interaction between employees in the restaurant and between employees and customers,” Kokonas tweeted. “It's doable. With regular service it's not possible.”
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