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NEWS: Golden Gate Restaurant Association statement on the closure of indoor dining in San Francisco

San Francisco, CA: “We are very disappointed San Francisco has announced closing indoor dining effective Saturday, morning, November 14th. Although our foremost concern remains with the health and well-being of our community, we do anticipate immediate negative effects; including more restaurant closures, both short-term and permanent, significant job losses, and numerous employees losing health insurance coverage.  

We are also concerned the level of financial stress on employees and their families will result in increased mental health issues as well as stress related illnesses. With winter on the way, limited indoor dining represented the only real hope for many restaurants to survive the next three months. As we have said before, the majority of restaurants simply cannot make it financially on takeout alone. With the uncertainty around further federal support, San Francisco restaurants, their employees, and their families will suffer greatly. 

We understand the rate of cases increasing (the slope of the curve) is steeper than our last wave in the summer, and that this caused real concerns by Dr. Aragon and Dr. Colfax as to the possibility that our healthcare system could easily become overwhelmed. While there seems to be no reported causal link between dining inside in San Francisco restaurants and the increased San Francisco case numbers, we continue to remind our members to follow all COVID-19 safe practices and guidelines. 

Given that our industry is being asked to sacrifice financially, we call on our city leaders to help our industry survive by offering immediate financial aid to our restaurants and our employees. We also call on Congress to pass the Restaurants Act now to provide critically needed dollars to keep restaurant workers employed.”

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List: Tampa Bay + Orlando Restaurants maintaining social distancing rules despite Governor DeSantis

For some strange reason the Governor of Florida decided to move Florida into Phase 3 of the reopening from Coronavirus. There are no statewide rules on capacity or restrictions in restaurants in bars. Just weeks ago bars and breweries were closed due to the spike they contribute to the pandemic.

Governor DeSantis is now calling for packed football stadiums in the middle of a pandemic that has killed more than 15,000 Floridians and over 219,000 Americans in just a few months.

Some restaurants and bars said they will still maintain rules though and the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County have pledged to maintain things like mask rules in place (for now). Here are some of the places that are pledging to maintain rules:

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Statement: Small Businesses Aghast at Trump stopping COVID Relief Negotiations

Today President Trump announced an end to the stimulus talks with no hope before Election Day. Main Street Alliance Executive Director, Amanda Ballantyne shares this:

“For Trump to stop negotiations on urgently needed relief, stating he will only resume negotiations after he “wins” the election shows callous disregard for millions of Americans suffering extreme financial hardship. The President appears willing to take the economy down with him if he fails, at this point.

Small business owners across the country are aghast at the short sightedness of this refusal to move an aid package. The failed leadership of the Trump Administration to control the pandemic and keep the economy on track will drive many small business owners to close and lead to prolonged economic hardship for working families in this country. Main Street Alliance members and small businesses across the country have been clamoring for months that additional support is necessary to avert a prolonged, protracted, costly and livelihood destroying economic crisis.

Small businesses have waited far too long for needed relief, and the consequences of delay have meant hundreds of thousands of closures impacting the labor market and economy. This is no time for political brinksmanship. Senate Republicans must come to the table and take action.”

Main Street Alliance is a national network of small business coalitions working to build a new voice for small businesses on important public policy issues.

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Tampa Bay bartenders and laundry non-profit join forces in pandemic fight

COVID-19 has impacted numerous industries around the country. One of the hardest hit industries is the bar industry where bartenders have constantly found themselves in shutdowns with rent still due and clothes that needs washing.

Recently, Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation closed bars and breweries around the state as virus cases continue to spin out of control due to very little regulation or engagement from Tallahassee.

Once again numerous bartenders have found themselves without work. Meanwhile some restaurants are breaking the rules with impunity.

I talked recently with Justin Gray from the United States Bartenders’ Guild chapter in Tampa Bay, a long time supporter of the industry and one of the best local bartenders I know.

I wanted to get the story behind how they ended up partnering with a non-profit called Current Initiatives and their Laundry Project which is “committed to educating and mobilizing communities to be Hope Dealers” for a project called A Drink Pocalypse that is raising money for bartenders and also for Current Initatives.

Supporters can purchase videos on cocktail techniques from experts around the Tampa Bay at the low cost of $10 and help support the industry and those who need it most.

Carlos Eats: What’s the story behind the partnership between USBG Tampa Bay Chapter and Current Initiatives?

JG: There isn’t a backstory – there is the reality of restaurant closures and the response to COVID-19. It was unexpected and something that none of us knew how to prepare for.

When it happened more than anything it was kind of a sense of emergency. I don’t think it was something light-hearted. We need something now.

USBG and bartenders…we’ve had meetings and conversations. A Drink Pocalypse happened in late April, while restaurants and bar were initially closed in March. We as an industry hadn’t figured it out.

There was a sense of urgency.

Carlos Eats: So survival pretty much?

JG: Sam Adams did something. Guy Fieri too. However too many people are impacted for one of those to have an actual lasting effect. Seeing how many people lost their jobs nationally, there is no way for those programs to guarantee that the assistance would come into our zip codes.

We wanted to do something where all funds would be kept right here in Tampa. Open to anyone throughout the Bay Area. The candidate pool was smaller.

That’s what drove us.

Carlos Eats: How can people help?

JG: Current Initatives has been around. When the restaurant closures happened, they extended their programs to include the hospitality programs.

What a lot of people aren’t thinking about. One of the most unfortunate things is the number of places that are permanently closed. We aren’t counting how many places have closed permanently or indefinitely.

Even though some restaurants are open, we are going to continue to provide help as long as we can.

Cocktail videos from bartenders from M. Bird, Copper and Shaker, the best bars in Tampa will show you different cocktail techniques. The video is a learn video.

As a bar manager or owner, you can purchase this video and they have incredible techniques that can be implemented. Sales go directly to Current Initiatives.

Buy the videos to support bartenders. Whether people are philanthropic or just to learn. The value is far beyond $10.

Carlos Eats: What do you think the state or city should be doing to help?

JG: I don’t want to make this sound like it is only a bartender phenomenon. If I can get sick at a bar, I can get sick anywhere else. The policy is inconsistent.

The situation is like this: either people go hungry or people lose their lives. Either people pay rent or people pay their lives. It’s an impossible situation and it is absolutely necessary that institutions – that they be there.

Stimulus checks can be good or bad. We need to halt rent payments. Our government has to care enough about us. The numbers in Florida are record breaking, at the same time people cannot afford not to have money.

None of us citizens are able to stop the coronavirus. There is nothing we as citizens can do besides looking at our government. Please continue to provide support. People are not able to work.

It’s time for us to look at how the government can continue to extender rent or mortgage deferments. The government is the only one who can help us.

Everyone needs help.

The more people that buy the video the better.


I then wanted to get more of the story behind Current Initiatives so I talked with the Founder Jason Sowell. He is a native Floridian who has worked in the non-profit sector for 20 years. He is a public speaker, writer, non-profit entrepreneur, missionary, wedding officiant & podcast host.

Carlos Eats: Can you start off with the history behind Current Initiatives?

JS: Current Initiatives started 12 years ago. Our first initiative was The Laundry Project. Out of learning stories about families that live in the area, I learned laundromats are expensive and not a fun place.

Lots of families struggle between groceries or laundry. I sought to turn laundromats into community centers and provide free laundry for those in need. I had big expansions plans for new locations and citizens, then the pandemic happened.

Things shut down. I pivoted back to Tampa – which is my home that I love. Recognizing that it is not just lower income families. People are out of work. The hospitality industry is hit hard. People will struggle to do their laundry.

I sat down with Mayor Jane Castor and TPD and I said we need to keep doing this. I told them I hope they will keep laundromats an essential business.

Carlos Eats: Would volunteers be helpful?

JS: We typically use volunteers, but shut down most of it due to the pandemic. A few bartenders and servers are personal friends that were laid off and hadn’t participated before then offered to help.

The hospitality industry got involved as volunteers and for 3 months teams of hospitality workers have worked 3 days a week to help in laundromats. 1 day a week is for hospitality workers. Bartenders went to bars and restaurants and told people about the project. Whoever needs can sign-up.

Carlos Eats: How can the general public help?

JS: Donations are what we are seeking. People can contact to volunteer when things get better. The need has been great. Typically we do 80 projects in a year, but in 16 weeks we have done 48 projects. Much more than usual. We don’t have plans to slow down.

Carlos Eats: What policy solutions could be used to help?

JS: A huge block of citizens who use laundromats are there by force. Prices at laundromats are what they are due to policy decisions. At home you pay for water by the gallon, but laundromats pay in tiers which strains operators and raises prices on citizens. It’s a slim-margin business.

Carlos Eats: How else can the government make a difference?

JS: Government assistance is usually only for food. People cannot use it for household supplies. Nor can they use it at a laundromat which is a problem.

Also – lower-income families are operating on cash. Politicians are pushing cashless which is harder on lower-income families who may not have bank accounts for contact-less payments and the hospitality industry which is paid in cash from tips.

There is a coin shortage due to a shutdown at the mint. Politicians need to get creative to get quarters to help families who need to wash their clothes. Bad policy can make things worse for people already struggling.

We as a society need to think about doing things in way that is dignifying for people getting help or empowering. Decisions during the coronavirus unintentionally are hurting lower-income families because leaders are not thinking things through.

Carlos Eats: I agree. The shutdown of bars and breweries is a perfect example of rushed decision making.

JS: Yes – that shutdown depends largely on license types. If you are coded for a restaurant you are allowed to operate, while other businesses close.

If I had to home in on a temporary measure we need to take, we need to make it easier for people out of work to get funds for things they need. Unemployment access.

Some bartenders have spent weeks and months helping other bartenders that need help, while struggling themselves to get on unemployment. That needs to change.

Carlos Eats: Thank you for your time. I know I learned a ton.

//

Support the United States Bartenders Guild in Tampa Bay at A Drink Pocalpyse (www.adrinkpocalypse.com).

Visit The Laundry Project by Current Initatives online at laundrybycurrent.org.

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NEWS: Publix finally mandates masks for shoppers

The pandemic has been a doozy but one constant in Florida has been the very vocal arguments between anti-mask shoppers and regular people trying to survive in grocery stores and society in general. Ironically, most polls show that the anti-mask people make up a very small but loud minority. The issue has been widely politicized much to dismay of healthcare experts nationwide.

Masks are one of the only defenses that society has against the Coronavirus.

Recent studies show that wearing a mask not only protects others from you, but also protects you from other people who are shedding the virus. It really helps explain why cases are so much lower in other countries who never shutdown but distributed masks widely, although many of them have also instituted other aggressive methods as well such as contact tracing and strict criminal penalties for violating pandemic laws.

Publix initially resisted employees who wanted to wear masks and then eventually came around to providing plexiglass and social distancing guidance as well as masks, but still refused to enforce masks in their stores for customers. There have been several cases of COVID-19 documented from employees at more than 20 Publix stores who were likely exposed to the virus by shoppers who didn’t care about the people bagging their groceries.

Once re-opening began in May, many Publix shoppers stopped wearing masks at all and it was business as usual as the virus started to spread faster and faster. On one visit on June 8th, I witnessed an entire produce aisle filled with dozens of people not social distancing or wearing masks. To be frank, I was horrified. I did not go back to Publix for weeks.

Once Hillsborough County and City of Tampa passed emergency mask ordinances in late June, I had to run to the store and decided to give Publix another shot nearly one month later. To my surprise, 100% of the shoppers were wearing masks and so were the employees. A huge difference. The mask orders have made a difference.

Unfortunately, these actions have come late and Florida’s COVID-19 growth is out of control. Florida added 100,000 cases in 10 days. The daily death toll and hospitalizations are climbing.

We are heading towards another shutdown that will have devastating economic impacts on the state. 6 Tampa Bay Publix locations had virus cases in July so far despite mask orders. Imagine if companies and politicians would have acted early to stop the spread instead of removing responsibility from each other.

Finally – now Publix is saying that they will mandate masks for all shoppers except children and those with medical conditions starting Tuesday, July 21st.

It’s late – but always better than nothing. They are not alone as other big names like Target, Wal-Mart, CVS, and other retail companies begin to mandate masks nationwide. America is in a crisis.

I hope these mandates will at least help the “essential” workers who have been forced into this mess without any leadership until now.

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Pro tip: Do not threaten struggling small businesses with ADA lawsuits you jerks

At the end of an uninteresting 4th of July weekend, I was scrolling on Instagram as I heated up some leftovers and read a post from The Lab Coffee in North Hyde Park that infuriated me.

A customer told them they will be hearing from the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) and City of Tampa for refusing them service without a mask.

During a time when Tampa Bay is ranked 3rd in the nation for growing Coronavirus cases with over 19,000 locally and growing, the least thing you can do as a decent human being is wear a mask.

If you’re unable to wear a mask for some reason, you should order delivery or make your own food at home.

What you should not do is harass a local business that has been through one of the biggest interruptions of our time with your pompous attitude that literally nobody cares about and threaten them with a lawsuit.

A friend of mine who owns a local salon told me she encountered a similar situation and had to involve lawyers. What she found out is that customers can be turned away because it is a violation of OSHA for workers to be put at risk with the Coronavirus which is even worse for employers.

Other lawsuits are underway around the country including 32 lawsuits against Giant Eagle supermarket in Texas for requiring masks and several lawsuits around Florida to drop mask mandates and ordinances all together.

Folks. A mask is NOT a political statement. Masks are about saving lives.

It is proven that masks can help save lives and the refusal of customers and especially Floridians to take action to protect their fellow Americans is exactly why hospitalizations are on the upswing and cases are out of control. Florida added nearly 30,000 cases in one weekend.

If we do not stop the spread eventually Florida will be forced into shutdown like Arizona and Texas…then businesses will be forced closed again and millions of people will lose their jobs and livelihoods again. Is that what you want?

Be responsible. Wear a mask. Don’t torture others because you don’t want to be considerate and stop being a jerk.

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List: Restaurants and bars confirming Coronavirus cases in Tampa Bay

All of the sudden there seems to be a large number of restaurants and bars in Tampa Bay reporting cases of Coronavirus among their staff members. Some are closing and some are not.

This is occurring at the same time as Florida coronavirus cases are spiking and fears of a shutdown are coming back into play. Governor DeSantis has swore there will be no shutdowns and this is the “new normal”.

Hillsborough County and Pinellas County leaders seem to be racing to come up with a plan to help slow down the rise in cases to prevent an issue later in hospitals. Mayor Kriseman announced a mask order today for employees of St. Pete businesses and he said a local order for the public is in the works.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

The Galley DTSP – 6/12

The Avenue DTSP and Park & Rec – 6/13

In The Loop Brewing – 6/13

Jannus Live – 6/16

Meat Market South Tampa – 06/16 (case discovered June 8)

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Guide: Restaurant Reservation Platforms during COVID-19

As several restaurants start to plan their reopening strategies during COVID-19, many restaurateurs may be interested in signing up for a restaurant reservation platform to plan out and control dining crowds, as well as to help with other priorities such as take-out.

I looked into a few platforms and found some useful information about what platforms are doing to help and how owners can take advantage of this as they manage Coronavirus.

  1. OpenTable: Arguably one of the most popular online reservation platforms is OpenTable. For years they have dominated the space, but also have been quite expensive for restaurateurs to use – which has led to their clientele being mostly high-end restaurants and diners. OpenTable is waiving subscription fees through the end of 2020 and cover fees through September 30th, 2020 as well as a 50% cover fee discount through the end of 2020 for restaurants who sign up for their “Open Door” pricing program. Standard subscription and cover fee pricing will be reintroduced in 2021. The large customer base that OpenTable has could be a draw for restaurateurs. Make sure to read the fine print though as always.
  2. Resy: One of OpenTable’s big competitors, Resy, is also offering no fees through the rest of 2020 for restaurants. It applies to both existing and new restaurant partners. They have added new features like a Mobile Waitlist, Automated Capacity Monitor, and Takeout and Contactless pickup are also in the works.
  3. Tock: Tock is a reservation and takeout/delivery platform that is ran by Nick Kokonas of Alinea Group. Several of the people running and advising the platform are hospitality industry affiliated names. Many of the members of Tock seem to be smaller, local restaurants. Fees start at $199 a month, Tock has waived fees through the end of May for restaurants.
  4. Yelp Reservations: One of the more expensive options has a flat rate of $249 a month, but is integrated with Yelp which is one of the busiest websites online for restaurants. There are no cover fees, setup fees, or web access fees added on for monthly service. Yelp offers table management and waitlist management. Yelp is offering 3 months of free access to Yelp Reservations and Yelp Waitlist through the end of May 2020 as part of their COVID-19 relief. Call (844) 889-1617 to sign up.
  5. Eat App: This platform has some features in place to help restaurants navigating COVID-19 including switching to reservations only, the ability to change floor plans, configure shifts to automatically restrict covers, manage capacity minute by minute, and waitlists. They also offer phone integrations, custom tags and notes, SMS capabilities, and contact list information as well as other features. Pricing starts at $129 a month which is one of the lowest in the pack.

These are just a few of the tools out there for restaurants looking to get back on their feet during COVID-19. You will also look into your POS system and see if there is features on there for reservations or if it is compatible with these services.

As always, be sure to read the contract terms before proceeding with any deal.

Good luck!

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Why are landlords still raising rent on restaurants during a pandemic?

News has spread that Cafe Ponte in Clearwater is now permanently closed due to COVID-19 and leasing problems. This is the beginning of many stories that will soon be told about failing restaurants in Tampa Bay. Personally I did not dine there, but was constantly told about the place from those who love to eat in Tampa.

The owner told the Tampa Bay Times: “He wanted to increase the rent and we couldn’t come to a fair agreement.” Other projects are in the works, but this spot was running for 18 years and is now closed.

Unfortunately, this is going to be really common as the virus continues to persist.

One of the big reasons is because most restaurants in Tampa Bay are due for leasing renewals or may have recently signed one.

Many of the restaurants in Tampa Bay appeared during the last financial crisis or Great Recession in the early 2010s. Those leases expired in a market where Tampa real estate has swelled and become quite expensive as more people moved to Florida and companies began relocating to the region. It wasn’t as much of a problem until Coronavirus showed up and put ice on tourism in Florida.

This also begs the question, why are landlords still increasing rent in the middle of a pandemic? Who exactly is going to move into these empty units during one of the worst times of uncertainty? It is a problem that is plaguing both businesses and working class people already being squeezed.

Even Starbucks is asking for rent relief after their sales fell by 85% from their landlords. How can small businesses survive like that?

Restaurants have experienced a huge disruption with states closing their businesses for over a month and putting them into minimized operating capacity to help stop the spread of COVID-19. While this is important for public health and needs to be done, the same government who mandates closures should also be working to protect restaurants from rent increases, evictions, and other forces.

There’s a number of tools that can be used to help restaurants that still aren’t being used in Florida or Tampa Bay even get a little bit of help.

Cities around the country are putting caps on delivery fees to help restaurants that have lost much of their dine-in business and are seeing increases in delivery and take-out. Even with restaurants re-opening, studies show that most customers will not be dining in again until a vaccine is hopefully created for COVID-19.

OpenTable data shows that for the most part, dining has yet to recover and has hung stubbornly around -80% or higher for most cities that already opened their doors.

A viral photograph shows how Grubhub and the various delivery platforms actually take in a huge amount of profits from restaurants even during the pandemic as they struggle to survive. Uber Eats takes up to 30% of a delivery commission. Rumor has it that Uber is about to buy Grubhub for $6 billion, which will lower the bargaining power that restaurants will have on fees.

Although PPP (Payroll Protection Program) loans are being heavily floated as a way for restaurants to stay afloat, many owners cried foul after they realized that PPP loans are mostly for payrolls (as the name implied) and most of the money cannot be used towards rent or other costs. This is mostly good for workers which is important, but it will not fundamentally save the restaurants who now have the funds but still have numerous costs to figure out.

If cities and states really want to protect their small businesses and restaurants as they say they do, they need to come up with more tools to help those places stay in business. It’s unfair to ask restaurants simply to shoulder the burden of staying closed during this health emergency and to not offer them tools to survive the pandemic as well.

California has come up with a few interesting things like paying restaurants to help feed the elderly and more things like that might be needed nationwide.

Policymakers need to find ways to provide rent relief for restaurants and to help ease other issues plaguing restaurants now like supply disruptions, spiking food costs, the cost of acquiring PPE, and other issues at play. At the very least, landlords should not be raising rent on restaurants in the middle of a pandemic.

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Coronavirus: Souplantion, Sweet Tomatoes fold under pressure

The first major restaurant industry casualty is Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes, many more are expected in the future as the restaurant industry is impacted by COVID-19. The Los Angeles Times posted a full story this evening about the closure. The chain has been plagued with troubled finances for years.

The reaction on Twitter was filled with mourning:

RIP to unlimited clam chowder.