The restaurant industry is one of the largest money-makers in the world, and businesses in Florida are no exception. Every single chef, server, host and manager relies on customers to make a living. The current COVID-19 crisis has changed the way the food industry and restaurants in general are operating, turning them into takeout and delivery only.
Two places, Bonefish Grill in Weston and Village Tavern in Pembroke Pines, exemplify both the economic hardship and ingenuity some restaurants are showing.
Bonefish Grill in Weston is one of the region’s busiest seafood places and is well known to many who live in that suburb. Manager Jeff Ganey said that on a typical Friday night before the shutdown, they would have at least eight pages of reservations, along with many more walk-ins. Bonefish Grill is one of the most profitable restaurant chains in the country, generating $574 million in sales last year. The chain is part of a company — Bloomin’ Brands — that owns other well-known chains, including Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Since the coronavirus crisis hit, Bloomin’ Brands has seen its stock price drop 25%.
Bonefish Grill is busy focusing on a service that can feed many at once, including a limited menu called “family bundles.”
“This is an easy way to feed up to five people in the household, said Ganey. “We wanted to give everyone an easy way to access food for a decent price.”
“Switching to takeaway has forced us to dramatically reduce the workforce,” he added. “We need to focus on taking care of our people and our community to the best of our ability.”
Going from a highly profitable dine-in experience to takeout and delivery is having a big impact on the restaurant’s employees, some who say that at least they’re still working.
“I’ll take anything I can get at this point to pay for my bills,” Bonefish Grill bartender and server Taylor Bayne said. “I went from averaging $200 a night to being lucky if I make $70. Money is tight for many of us and being able to work right now is a blessing.”
Other establishments, such as Village Tavern in Pembroke Pines, are offering “Quarantine Kits” that are delivered curbside. The kit includes a gallon of milk, steaks, a dozen large eggs, butter, burgers, toilet paper rolls, chicken breasts and oranges.
“The kit is $100 and it has seemed to help a lot of people who are afraid to go to the grocery store,” said Emily Squire, a Village Tavern worker. “This way they can cook right in the comfort of their own home without having to worry.”
Squire added that there is a bit of a silver lining in that she has noticed a different pattern of behavior among some customers.
“Some people have been more generous with tips, knowing that restaurant workers are suffering when it comes to being financially stable at this time. I hope that life will be normal soon.”
A significant portion of workers in the restaurant industry already work for lower wages and rely heavily on tips. The slowdown in business is expected to get worse before it gets better, which is why the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit organization, has been compiling a list of resources that includes a relief fund and financial assistance.