Cards on the table time. I’ve been in self imposed lockdown since roughly March 12th now, and if I’m brutally honest I’m more than happy to keep myself holed up for the time being. That mountain peak-esque infection rate graph is wayyyy too rich a gamble for my money; and that’s saying something, I’m a frequent Wendover visitor, enough that the bar tenders recognize me on sight. That’s another story, ahem.
For the time being my computer and phone are my window to the world. I know others aren’t as eager (or lucky) to pursue the hermits lifestyle. Many are now headed back into the world, either by volition or vocation.
With the re-opening gathering steam then, I spoke to several local restaurateurs. How has the crisis so far impacted them, what steps are they taking in re-opening and what’s next. If you’re looking to dine out, here’s how things are looking…
We are currently operating at about 50% due the limited tables available. People have been really great and understanding of the new circumstances. We ask all guests to wear a mask anytime they communicate with our staff and until they are actively eating or drinking. We will provide them with a mask at the door and ask them to sanitize their hands before entering. All guests must have a table to enter and we encourage reservations.
All tables are spaced 6′ from each other and from any service area. We have an every 30 min sanitizing policy that covers all common areas….bathrooms, door handles, touch screens etc. Each table, menu and all chairs or booths are sanitized thoroughly between each guest. All staff are monitored daily by temperature and for any symptoms.
On top of all that we have each store professionally disinfected 3 times a week. We decided to keep the same menu we closed with. When we reopened we felt training of these new operating procedures was more important to implement and adding a menu change would have been too much. Now that everyone is in good practice of these new policies we will be launching summer menus shortly.
We feel like this might be the new normal for a while and until there is a vaccine or herd immunity the way we operate won’t change. That is why we decided to open when we did, we felt that there wasn’t ever going to be the “right time” to open. We also felt like we could provide a safer and more sanitary space for people to come than most other places they go (gas stations, grocery stores).
Since reopening for dine-in, we’ve seen about a 50-60% drop from the same period last year. Guests have by in large been very gracious. They have frequently told their servers how glad they are to be able to dine-in and that they appreciate all of the steps were are taking to ensure the health/safety. The guests have been really great.
The biggest change is of course the limited number of tables that we have in the dinning rooms or that we are seating (in some dining rooms we left the tables in place but are not seating them). But we’ve also got a lot going on with our staff and facility. All staff members have their temperature checked when they come in and we log it (per health department guidelines). All employees are wearing masks. It’s a bit startling to realize how much we communicate with facial expressions and we lose that with the masks. Everyone is also wearing gloves that are frequently changed.
We’ve hired a company to perform a weekly cleaning and sterilization of our bathroom facilities. The cleaning products they use will kill virus and bacteria for 7 days, so they come in every 7 days. We are also having one staff member going through and sanitizing tables after guest use. The have a lot of time available so that go around and clean/sanitize surfaces throughout the facilities.
Menu changes have been pretty minor. At places like Oasis and Kyoto, we’ve been able to continue to serve the full menus. Locations like Current and Stanza, we’ve had to remove some items that require specialty products that we can get right now.
I’m optimistic about the future. This is a super tough time, but I think that we can hang in there and slowly recover along with the rest of society.
We created all kinds of new procedures to be executed every shift, every day – some even every hour and every transaction. It starts with employee screening daily: temperature and symptom checking, making sure no one has traveled. Every employee must wear a face covering at all times. Rigorous cleaning and sanitation at the beginning and end of each shift, hand washing between every interaction with customers, extensive use of disposable gloves, full sanitation of all surfaces between customers, hourly sanitation of all high-touch surfaces by a dedicated sanitation staff member and sanitizer stations available at the entry to each area for use by customers.
Log Haven currently employees a dedicated guest greeter who holds guests at the bottom of our walkway and communicates their arrival with the Manager on Duty via walkie-talkie. This allows the Manager to control access to the restaurant such that social distancing is ensured. All guests are counseled to wear face coverings when they are away from their dining table. Signage is posted at the entry and in each dining area reminding guests of the importance of social distancing and face coverings.
In order to facilitate social distancing, we have removed all furniture from our waiting areas and marked the waiting spaces at least 6 feet apart. 70% of our tables and chairs have also been removed. We are fortunate to have 3 outdoor dining spaces but we still have significantly decreased the tables and chairs in these areas also. For employee safety, we have limited our kitchen staff to 3 cooks on the line which also limits our capacity to serve guests. As a result, we have reopened with a more limited menu than prior to this crisis and have had to adjust our seating timeframes accordingly.
Have our customers returned? Yes. The limitations on guest seating and kitchen throughput combined with the time needed to comprehensively sanitize and clean automatically decreases our ability to return to any normal volume. In May we will experienced a 75% drop. We offer curbside pickup options for daily takeout as well as a special Anniversary-Dinner-for-Two, but have found that our remote location has inhibited demand for these options.
The good news? Our guests consistently thank us for reopening. Some say dining at Log Haven gives them an experience of hope and a moment of imagining a return to normal. Many come to celebrate their anniversaries or graduations or birthdays. Most have stories to tell about what Log Haven has meant to them and their loved ones over the years. Several insisted on being ‘the first’ for a table when we reopened. We so appreciate their enthusiasm and support. They tell us we help them create new memories in the midst of the coronavirus upheaval.
As you know, Log Haven has long been known for special occasions and weddings. One of our greatest challenges right now is helping our wedding couples work through their long planned celebrations. Some choose smaller gatherings, others choose to hold an intimate ‘mini-mony’ wedding ceremony now followed by a reception party at a later date. We are collaborating with local vendors to provide safe and flexible support for our brides and grooms and their families yet still help them to social distance and follow safety guidelines.
Sometimes guests cannot be seated in one physical space, so we now offer large screen simultaneous viewing of the important moments such as the wedding party toasts, cake cutting, the first kiss, their first dance. This allows everyone to feel a part of the event in a safe manner. These events are as much a fabric of Log Haven as dining and we feel honored to be a part of the special day.
Spring is in full force in the canyon right now. Warm days and cool nights. Trees leafing and ducks mating. Flowers bloom and our waterfalls are swollen with winter runoff. The hummingbirds and swifts have returned. Something about this magnificent natural renewal works its own magic on our optimism in spite of our struggles. Log Haven was opened with the mission of Nature, Nurture and Nourish in 1994. Perhaps now, more than ever before, our community needs a Log Haven to nourish and nurture our connections. I once heard someone say ‘there is nothing small about a small business’. Log Haven’s mission is certainly not small – we still believe this mission matters. And so, we continue our chosen work.
Hearth and Hill’s reopening for dine-in naturally evolved from our decision to remain open for curbside take-out when Summit County shut down dine-in with just a couple hours’ notice on Sunday, March 15. Our immediate motivation was to help our employees and local farmers and other vendors, while innovating dine-out services, such as free delivery, frozen dishes and farmers’ bags.
Initial expectations were that restrictions would ease within a month. As the shutdown progressed, we realized that Hearth and Hill also could be helpful to the community, by providing free meals to needy families, menu discounts and specials, non-profit fundraisers, and entertainment, such as a complimentary Mariachi Band accompanying home delivery on Cinco de Mayo.
Another benefit: purchasing and becoming accustomed to face masks, social distancing, frequent cleaning and other new health and safety protocols. This experience led to me becoming a member of the Summit County task force advising on reopening protocols. Similar to other restaurants, we have made many changes to traditional dine-in operations. Our goal: keep our staff and guests safe, while creating the fun, local “Gathering Spot” atmosphere that is Hearth and Hill’s hallmark.
To that end, we chose to not reopen Hearth and Hill for dine-in until May 21, to give us ample time to fully train and rehearse our staff with the new systems, to procure all the required signage, supplies and opening inventory, and to design a locally sourced food and beverage menu that blends familiar favorites with creative new offerings. Just like Hearth and Hill’s grand opening in December 2018, we approached May 21, 2020 as a milestone moment, when it was essential to deliver on our commitment to “Inspire our associates, thrill our guests, and enrich our community.”
The social distancing and related changes are many. To start, tables are spaced no less than 7-feet apart, reducing our capacity about 25%. Our menus are single-use only; we sanitize tables, chairs and booths before lunch or dinner and after every use, and public surfaces frequently; our associates are wearing gloves and face masks at all times; we have different associates running food and bussing tables; we have numerous signs requesting guests to social distance, and to enter only if they are healthy and not infectious; hand sanitizers are distributed throughout the restaurant; the restroom doors have been retrofitted for hands-free use; etc.
Since Hearth and Hill reopened for dine-in, we have been gratified by the response. Though sales are of course down year-over-year, the impact on Hearth and Hill has been softened by the community’s eagerness to again enjoy a meal out, the accessibility of our locals-priced menu, guests’ confidence in the County’s safety measures, and sustained demand for our dine-out services, now including box lunches. Plus, the pleasant weather has allowed us to open our popular dog-friendly patio.
Hearth and Hill and other restaurants are doing their part to help curb the epidemic and thus accelerate the community’s return to normal, but we expect the negative impact on our industry, particularly in areas dependent on visitors, to persist for some time. Even as restrictions are further eased, it’s likely that some individuals will remain reluctant to venture out, especially for larger group gatherings. Thus, Hearth and Hill continues to innovate services that can serve all members of the community, such as growing the off-site catering business that we started just before the pandemic hit.
Hearth and Hill was founded as being first and foremost about the local community. Though unbelievably challenging, this crisis has shown us how important that local focus is, for our associates, vendors and guests. We are determined to best serve each of those stakeholders by constantly innovating, listening and learning.
Customer numbers have drastically reduced. We are estimating a reduction of about 80%. We used to have a lot of reservations in advance for larger parties but that has drastically declined as well.
Most customers walk-in to the restaurant with masks on and use the hand sanitizer available at the host station. Most customers come in groups of 4 or less. Also, a lot of the younger customers have mentioned that they want to bring their parents/grandparents but are hesitant to bring them to eat at restaurants. In addition, I have noticed that customers are more aware of the sanitary practices that we are implementing. Many customers call to ask about how the salad bar is going to be utilized and what precautions we are taking.
Per the SLC Health Department, the salad bar is closed to guests so the customer is given a check list of items that are available. Then, the server or staff member who is wearing gloves and a mask will pick the items from the salad bar and serve to the customer. Some other changes are that we are using disposable menus. All pens are sanitized after each use. High touch areas such as the door handle are sanitized every 30 mins. The biggest change is that we invested in a thermal temperature reader so all guests are required to get their temperature taken upon entry of the restaurant. It is a little different from a regular thermometer as a no touch machine reads the temperature of the guest. All employees are also required to take their temperature every shift. Any employees and customers have a fever are not allowed into the restaurant.
We are limited to using every other table for guests. Every shift and after each use, the table and seats are cleaned with a cleaner and then a sanitizer. We haven’t had any menu changes yet but the increasing price of meat is a growing concern for us as we are an all you can eat style restaurant with focus on meat.
We are remaining hopeful that things will get better soon but in reality, we are expecting the revenue loss and less customers to have a huge impact. Some people have the wrong assumption that businesses that are open are making a lot of revenue but in reality, we are at a loss. However, we have chosen to open as soon as we can to help our employees have a source of income.
I think that everyone who has visited Mr Shabu are being responsible and careful as much as possible. There haven’t been any guests with a fever and none of the guests have complained about getting their temperature scanned. We are really appreciative of customers who comply with our changes and leave encouraging messages.
We have implemented as many changes as possible. However, if it does get worse, we are planning on doing reservation only.
Take out started at 10% of previous sales and grew to 25%. With the protests and curfews the first week of dine-in at Pago was even lower (we opened June 1st and that is when the curfew and protests started), but we have now grown to about 50% if the patio is open. The first weekend of business, there were protests and a rain storm so we were not able to seat the patio. Basically, we have 5 of 13 tables inside that we can seat with distancing and 4 of 9 tables outside. So less than 50% capacity.
Our customers have been pretty great. We are taking guests temperatures at the door and not allowing anyone to enter with a fever. We have two main types of guests – those who are cautious and wear masks when they enter and then enjoy dinner without them and we have guests that still prefer curbside delivery. We are seeing generous tips to our FOH team which is a big help with the lower wages they are making now.
Probably the biggest change to the menu is that we are continuing with our curbside/takeout program as well as re-opening for lunch. We are offering counter service at lunch and hope to continue that into the future as well. Several lunch only items are offered at lunch – fish & chips, fish sandwich, cobb salad and others.
Moving forward we are in the last week of the PPP loan and if we can only seat 40-50% of our dining room we will not be able to survive without additional grants. We will continue to innovate and do what we need, in order to get through this, but it won’t be easy. However, I do believe it is the right thing to do. The safety of our staff and our guests is paramount and we all need to do our part to prevent the spread of the virus. As a business owner, it just creates some serious financial challenges. We will get through it, somehow. The community, Mayor Mendenhall, SL Health Department are all doing a great job navigating us all through these unprecedented times.
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Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. I’m largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. I ate all the pies.