Restaurants rocked by coronavirus pandemic

Restaurants rocked by coronavirus pandemic
Like so many others in the hospitality business, Anna Maria Island Café bar manager Jason Benn is trying to figure out what comes next. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Many restaurants on Anna Maria Island and in the village of Cortez are now offering takeout and delivery service to help offset the economic damage being caused in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

On Tuesday, March 17, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that closed all Florida bars and nightclubs as of 5 p.m. that night. The executive order also mandated all restaurants reduce their seating capacity to 50% and create a six-foot distance between groups of diners that are now limited to no more than 10 per group.

Restaurants rocked by coronavirus pandemic
Swordfish Grill server Scarlett Szarko makes a dockside delivery to boater and longtime patron Mick Weick. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

The next change came shortly after 2 p.m. on Friday, March 20, when DeSantis issued an executive order that immediately restricted restaurant operations to delivery and takeout service only. The order allows alcohol to be sold for takeout purposes but prohibits alcohol being consumed on the premises of any Florida restaurant.

Shellshocked in paradise

Although not a complete surprise, Friday’s announcement sent immediate economic shockwaves throughout Florida’s restaurant industry as owners, managers and employees scrambled to enact contingency plans.

In Cortez, Swordfish Grill General Manager Bob Slicker already had his plan in place.

“We had already been providing our customers with to-go services that include having their food delivered curbside or dockside,” Slicker said Friday afternoon.

“If you order something to go, you get a free roll of toilet paper if you need it. And if you’re a restaurant employee and have a check stub to prove it you get 40% off your food. We can do to-go alcohol too. You can pick up a six-pack and some food and then stay home,” Slicker said.

He encourages those who purchase takeout food anywhere to tip generously.

“I want to be there for my team and my community and pay some of our employees for as long as I can. Some people can’t bounce back from something like this and they might start making bad decisions,” Slicker said when expressing his concerns about mental health issues and suicide rates increasing as the economic hardships become greater.

By 3:45 p.m. Friday, Anna Maria Island Beach Café bar manager Jason Bell had already closed the tiki bar and the café was in the process of closing until further notice.

“We’re waiting to see what happens next and we’re pretty much out of a job at the moment. Luckily, they’re going to let us come in and do some cleaning and stuff like that, but there’s only so much of that you can do,” Benn said.

By 4 p.m., Hurricane Hanks in Holmes Beach already had banners in their windows that said, “Open for takeout and delivery.”

Management and staff there were already dealing with unhappy customers who were learning they would not be allowed inside to eat or drink.

Around the corner at the Ugly Grouper, General Manager Thad Treadwell was still trying to process what just happened and he said it was too soon for him to comment.

While Treadwell and his staff swung into takeout-only mode, Wisconsin visitor Cindy Jewett and her son Nick learned they were not going to be sitting down to enjoy food and drinks.

“Before you could sit with the tables further apart, but this is ridiculous,” she said of the events that unfolded during her week-long stay on the Island.

In response to the governor’s order, most Anna Maria Island and Cortez restaurants quickly took to social media to announce and promote their takeout and delivery services.

Ed Chiles and the Chiles Group own and operate the Sandbar restaurant in Anna Maria, the BeachHouse in Bradenton Beach and Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant in Longboat Key.

When contacted Sunday, Chiles said, “All three restaurants are operating with takeout menus and we’re looking to do custom food too if people need a bigger, family-style meal.”
Regarding his employees, Chiles said, “Our staff is concerned and we’re providing them information on where to go to sign up for unemployment compensation, how to do that and what we’re doing with their health insurance after these layoffs happen. We also set up a GoFundMe account for our Chiles Group employees and we put $12,000 in that. This is a vehicle for people who want to help these folks who work for us.”

Before last week’s events unfolded, the Chiles Group had more than 300 employees.