St. Louis restaurants prepare for coronavirus’ effect on business
The spread of COVID-19 has resulted in the cancellation of events from Schlafly’s Stout & Oyster Festival to annual Dogtown St. Patrick’s Day festivities and created a run on supplies from toilet paper to face masks.
The virus also has St. Louis area restaurateurs taking steps to prevent infection at their establishments while bracing for the possibility of sagging sales as more people opt to socially distance themselves.
“It’s hitting me from all angles,” said Bob Brazell, owner of The Tenderloin Room, Tamm Avenue Bar and Byrd & Barrel. “At The Tenderloin Room, we host a lot of large groups from large companies that fly people into St. Louis.”
He said those companies are now canceling events that, so far, have cost the restaurant around 100 seats at approximately $112 a head.
St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Dogtown usually result in about a month’s worth of sales in one day at Tamm Avenue Bar, Brazell said, but with the cancellation of the official Dogtown St. Patrick’s Day celebration, “It’s going to be tough.”
Brazell said Byrd & Barrel has also experienced a downturn in business. The restaurant’s satellite concession at Enterprise Center has taken a big hit in the wake of the cancellation of multiple concerts and the NCAA cancellation of March Madness tournaments, which was scheduled for March 19 to 21.
“For the rest of the season, it’s going to be hard to make sales,” Brazell said.
Brazell said he’s doing everything possible to keep staff and customers safe, and all of his restaurants have ramped up preventative measures: staff at all locations are wearing gloves while bussing tables and are not allowed to work if they present symptoms. Hand sanitizing stations have been placed throughout each location.
At Tamm, guests are being asked to throw away their own cups and trash, and straws are no longer offered. Brazell is also promoting Byrd & Barrel’s drive-thru for customers who want to minimize contact and will offer no-contact delivery via Postmates.
“We’re taking every measure we can,” he said. “We will do everything we can to provide a safe environment for people to enjoy our food and hospitality.”
Herbie’s and Kingside Diner owner Aaron Teitelbaum has also instituted hand sanitizing stations in his restaurants and is offering curbside pickup service at Herbie’s and all Kingside for the duration of the outbreak.
Teitelbaum said staff will wear gloves when taking orders out to customers. Curbside orders will have a 20 percent service fee added, all of which will go to the restaurant’s servers.
“What I’m really worried about are my servers,” he said. “We’ve definitely seen a dip in business, and they rely on tips, so I want them to make some money.”
Even those places who haven’t seen business impacted by the virus are being proactive.
“I thought people would stop coming, but so far they haven’t,” said Lauren Diel, general manager of Foundation Grounds Coffeehouse in Maplewood. “Our cafe is full, but we’re taking every precaution.”
These include hourly wipe-downs of all surfaces (even pens) with alcohol wipes. The staff also wear gloves for cash handling, and the cafe’s usual ceramic plates and mugs have been replaced with paper products for the duration, though customers are still welcome to bring in their own mugs.
While he said people should definitely stay home and use common sense if they are experiencing symptoms, Teitelbaum said he wants to reassure customers that eating out is still a safe endeavor.
“Restaurants are as safe or safer than any other public place you’d choose to go to,” Teitelbaum said. “We’re hypersensitive [to the issue], and we already have good practices because we deal with food.”
Matt Sorrell is a longtime contributor to Sauce Magazine.
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