MILWAUKEE — Dozens of restaurants from around the state joined a webinar on Tuesday to gain guidance on what steps they should be taking to reopen safely during the pandemic.
"It's kind of like the desperation time right now," said Jason Schleip, Consultant for the Small Business Development Center.
Schleip hosted the webinar to share the guidelines from the SBDC and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).
"You know, get these restaurants back open and there aren't a lot of rules. Actually, there are no rules. There are kind of guidelines and I think a lot of restaurants have a lot of questions about how to get back open."
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The goal of the nearly hour long webinar was to help restaurants understand how to open up as quickly as possible, to become profitable again while maintaining a social responsibility to keep patrons safe. The main areas of focus were safety for customers, employees, the establishment and food.
"I think it's still a little bit of an unknown," Eric Wagner, CEO of the Lowlands Group said. "I think a lot of us are kind of looking around wondering what that's going to look like. It's going to be different."
Wagner's restaurant group has eight locations including Cafe Benelux, Cafe Hollander, Central Grand Cafe & Tappery. Buckatabon Tavern & Supper Club was also recently added to his portfolio. He says they just started curbside to-go service last week at some locations and hope to open their doors for people to dine in a few weeks from now.
But they know, regardless of what the state says, their success or failure is dependent on how comfortable customers feel when going into their restaurants.
"How those things are perceived by our customers is going to have as much or more impact on what we do," Wagner said. "I think there is a certain level of fear that anyone will have those first couple of times. But I think that once we kind of get over the distance between the tables and some of those other elements, hopefully over time will continue to fade."
On top of spacing out tables, to increase social distancing, Schleip encourages restaurants to constantly clean and sanitize, seal and roll silverware and have single-use items when possible. That means things like paper menus and eliminating table top condiments to lower customer contact.
"Eliminating anything in the restaurant that is possible that the customer there before you touched," Schleip said. "That, and just having an overall feeling of cleanliness and sanitation on an ongoing basis."
Schleip hopes the consumer can also help out. He says roughly 70 percent of restaurant business happens between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Because of this, he's hoping those who go out can choose a different time to go, so they can avoid crowding at the actual restaurant.
It's something that could pay off for customers too.
"But you can do little things to get people to come out," Schleip said. "Like, after 8:00, drinks are half price or, if you come in before 5:00, you get a free appetizer with your order or something like that. Something to pay them to spread their patronage out to a different time."
So here's the Rebound Rundown on what going out to eat could look like:
- Restaurants will have fewer tables to adhere to social distancing guidelines
- Expect single-use items, like paper menus, condiments, etc. to limit customer contact
- 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. is the busiest time for restaurants. Consider going out to eat at a different time to avoid crowds.