This is the first part in a series on how our local restaurants are navigating state regulations on health and safety concerning COVID-19. We are doing our best to be inclusive, but with so many restaurants, we may not be able to get to everyone.
However, we still want to hear your stories: How have regulations changed the way you do business? How has creative thinking made the best of your situation? Do you plan on making any permanent changes even when regulations ease? How can customers and the community help as you continue adapting to a new business model? To share your story, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
After a harrowing escape from Florida to Colorado and then back to Maine, Carriage House Restaurant owner Kelly Farrin has been rolling with the punches since opening the restaurant after a short hiatus ended March 20.
Farrin was on vacation first in Orlando and then in Vail when COVID-19 started becoming a serious threat. People were already wearing masks, socially distancing and working through the initial shocks of societal and economic upheaval in Orlando, said Farrin. By the time he arrived in Vail ready to hit the slopes one last time before next winter, the mountains were being shut down along with virtually everything nonessential.
“It was March 19 when we flew back and it was just the start of coronavirus, but the next day we opened for takeout and we've been doing it ever since … Take-out was something I never really wanted to do … but, that said, the governor is allowing us to use take-out containers for cocktails and that's helped … It's a different style for sure.”
Farrin and his staff opened the first floor June 1 with seven indoor tables and six outdoor ones, two on the patio and four on the front lawn. The precautions include logging books for keeping customers' names, one-time use menus, hand sanitizer, mandatory masks for employees, social distancing in the kitchen and on the floor, dividers between inside tables, and temperature checks for staff and customers. The whole protocol is available for customers to review.
While sales are nowhere close to normal, Farrin said keeping a smaller staff and smaller menu has helped keep the doors open, lights on and a few people earning a living while the world battles the spread of COVID-19. Limiting staff and the menu is far from ideal, but Farrin hopes it will be quite temporary.
From mid-March to mid-April, Carriage House was filling orders for over 100 fish and chips every Friday night. As more businesses find ways to rejoin the limited market, Carriage House perseveres with about half-and-half dine-in and take-out.
“A lot of restaurants closed down probably because they didn't foresee there being a profit. I don't really think we're seeing much of a profit, but it's about the ability to stay afloat, to survive and maybe make a few bucks. I just could never see this restaurant shut down because of a pandemic without somebody forcibly saying we have to close our doors.”
If COVID-19 makes a strong comeback and the state is forced to close restaurants’ doors again, Farrin said he would simply go back to take-out. “I think since we've been doing it for three months, we kind of have a system down. We have all the to-go boxes and that's already part of (employees') side work, putting together a hundred to-go boxes with liners, small souffle cups … We started early enough this season and I think the region kind of saw our mindset, how we present ourselves, trying to do a special every day. We’ll be OK.”
In the meantime, as restaurants work with new and untested business models, Farrin said there are a few things customers and guests can do to make eating in or dining out easier for servers and chefs. “Reservations, call early and know your order: those are the big things that help all of us out … (It) helps us have a good idea of the size of your party and helps control the flow of people coming in and out, fulfill any special requests and make sure nothing is out of stock.”
Said Farrin, “I think people just want to have more of an intimate dining experience right now … People are going to want to be able to eat out and treat themselves, so I think that's one reason they come to us. They know we make great homemade food.”