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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.

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Coronavirus: Over 20 restaurants in Tampa Bay will not open dining rooms on May 4th

Governor Ron DeSantis will allow restaurants in Florida to re-open dining rooms on Monday, May 4th, 2020 at 25% their usual capacity and unlimited capacity on patios as long as “social distancing” is maintained.

Over 20 Tampa Bay restaurants have decided not to re-open their dining rooms on May 4th. Most have said that they want to protect the health and safety of their employees and customers and will continue takeout or delivery if currently operational. Some are still working on a plan on how exactly to proceed.

Florida currently has 36,078 Coronavirus cases and 1,379 Floridians have died so far. Over 600 cases were added in the last 24 hours and several experts have said that Florida does not have proper testing in place to stop a new outbreak of the virus in the state.

Here are statements from some of the restaurants who will not be opening their dining rooms on May 4th:

  1. Siam Thai Garden: The St. Petersburg restaurant located at 3125 Dr. M.L.K. Jr. Street North posted on Facebook: “We believe things are too unpredictable right now to safely open for everyone, and people should come before profit. As a Thai saying goes, “To maintain your health is a fortune in itself.” They will continue to offer takeout and delivery. Find them at siamgardenthai.com.
  2. Bento Restaurant Group: This large restaurant group shared to their fans “As you may know, the mandatory closure of all dining rooms will be lifted in several counties across Florida as of this Monday, May 4th. The health and well-being of our team, guests, and community are still our top priority, so we have made the decision to keep our dining rooms temporarily closed. We will continue to offer takeout and delivery until we feel it’s safe to reopen our dining rooms.” eatatbento.com
  3. Columbia Restaurant Group: Ulele and Columbia restaurants have remained closed during the pandemic although Goody Goody Burger re-opened for takeout recently in South Tampa. Their owners shared, “While we’re now allowed to reopen, we will decide what that means for each of our restaurants. It might mean takeout or outside seating at some of our locations, but it’s too soon to know what or when (except for Goody Goody, which began takeout only on May 1). Whatever happens will be gradual, and safe for our guests and staff. We’re also watching other states very carefully to see what happens with restaurants there.” ulele.com columbiarestaurant.com goodygoodyburgers.com
  4. Cassis: The popular Downtown St. Pete restaurant and bakery posted that they will remain closed for now. Cassis posted “As of now, we are currently keeping the doors to our restaurant and bakery closed. We miss all of you so much and want our next evening together to be one that is safe and celebratory.” cassisstpete.com
  5. Pia’s Trattoria: “After much pondering we decided NOT to open this coming week for sit down service. As much as we would like to open our doors again, we don’t feel ready yet to welcome you. To make it a really safe operation for everyone involved and still provide an enjoyable experience we have to take many steps and think ahead. Employee training and repositioning, facility set up, special sanitary stations and -tools, strict guidelines, are just some of them. To bring our employees out of unemployment and you into our dining areas we need to get it all right, NO mistakes can be made. We are working hard on it, please be patient and stay tuned! ❤️. We will keep going with curbside service while we working on these necessary upgrades. Thank you all for your understanding!” piastrattoria.com.
  6. Jesse’s Steak and Seafood: This Brandon eatery shares “Although restaurants have been cleared to open at twenty-five percent capacity beginning May 4th, our dining room will remain closed until Governor DeSantis clears businesses for Phase 2. We have made this decision based upon both economical and safety concerns. We will however continue our curbside pickup and delivery, which is available through MobileMeals. We are also taking this opportunity to do some remodeling and necessary maintenance. We appreciate all of the continued support we have received from our community of loyal customers and look forward to seeing all of you in our dining room again soon!” jessessteakandseafood.com
  7. Soho Sushi + Yoko’s Classic Japanese Cuisine: The two popular South Tampa eateries posted similar messages: “While we are excited the Governor has initiated Phase One (which includes the ability of restaurants to operate at 25% capacity), we have made the very difficult and cautious decision to keep our dining room closed for now. In the meantime, we can continue to offer 20% off your curbside carry out. To place your order you can call, order online or use new SoHo Sushi mobile app. In addition, we’ll continue our delivery services through Uber Eats. You health and safety are our priority. We are completely overwhelmed by your support during this extraordinary time. Our hearts are full. We look forward to having you join us in our dining room soon.” sohosushi.com yokostampa.com
  8. Red Mesa Restaurant: I Love The Burg reports this statement “Red Mesa Restaurant Group will remain take out and carry out only until we feel it is safe to resume normal business operations,” said Tony Pullaro, Marketing Director. redmesarestaurant.com.
  9. Ichicoro Ramen: “In consideration of our team and safety, our Seminole Heights dining room will temporarily remain closed as we continue to monitor the situation. We are reviewing the changing restrictions and guidelines to inform all our decisions, making sure we serve you the absolute best way possible. We truly appreciate all the support and love we have received and will continue to do our best to support you back. We love you all #ramenarmy. Be safe. Be well. Above all remember, #weramenthistogether“. ichicoro.com
  10. Japanese Kitchen Dosunco: “For your safety and ours, we will not be open for dine-in. However, we will continue making takeout orders! Stay Safe Tampa Bay!” facebook.com/DOSUNCOTAMPA
  11. Sushi Ninja Tampa: This Korean and Japanese concept shared: “Both locations’ dining rooms will continue to remain closed until we are comfortable and confident that our staff, their families, and our community will be safe and healthy. We will continue to operate curb-side pick up for our customers.” Visit them online at sushininjafl.com.
  12. Cuenelli’s Peruvian Rotisserie and Grill: “Dear customers are a business, Cuenelli’s has decided to maintain our current operations and we are limiting ourselves to carry outs & to-go’s only until further notice. We value your business and we are eagerly working on a plan to return to our full operations soon.”
  13. Shuffle Tampa: “We are on this call and will be letting everyone know soon what our plan will be. We will NOT be opening to the public this week. Our takeout for next week will be Tuesday and Friday for now. Please maintain social distancing and stop hugging us. ❤️💙💛💚💜”. shuffletampa.com
  14. Bake’n Babes: This bakery from Tampa Heights will not be opening to the public at this time according to Owner Julie Curry. They will be doing delivery with Uber Eats and contactless pickup on Saturdays. bakenbabes.com
  15. King State: “As we head into this week, our dining room will remain closed for the time being. Lots of unknowns, lots of differing opinions, so we are going to take a little more time and make sure when we come back, it makes sense for our guests and everyone involved. We’re still crushing online & call ahead orders! As always, thanks for your support & we’re stoked to see you all inside whenever that may be! We’ll keep you posted! ONE LUV. YUH.” king-state.com
  16. Hawker’s St. Pete: “While we would absolutely love to break bread (er, Roti) with you guys while sitting around a Hawkers table catching up on great conversation, we have to make sure we are putting the safety of our team members and our guests first and foremost. We are already taking incredibly extensive measures to ensure the safety of all takeout, curbside pickup, and delivery orders, but we also recognize that there are numerous additional steps that must be taken, beyond what has been outlined by elected officials, to ensure the safest possible dine-in atmosphere for our team and our guests. We simply need more time to implement these dine-in safety measures, while also giving our team enough notice to make the necessary arrangements for their families as they prepare for a safe and steady reopening.” eathawkers.com
  17. Russo’s NY Pizzeria – Clearwater: “We’re hopeful and excited that Florida is slowly reopening. Restrictions for restaurants have begun to loosen but we have decided we will not open our dining room at this point for the new 25% capacity limit. We have been extremely fortunate to safely serve you through takeout, curbside pickup, free delivery and delivery via third party. We’ll continue to focus on operating safely in this fashion while we take some steps to get ready to open our patio and dining room. Click the link to see all our current specials and call us at 727-648-4304 to order this weekend. Thank you so much for your support.” nypizzeria.com/clearwater/
  18. Casita Taqueria: “While we’re beyond excited we’re also cautious. We have decided to keep our inside dining closed until we reach Phase 2. Casita will continue with curbside pick-up and online ordering. Our locations will proceed with outside patio dining and have spaced those tables accordingly per the CDC guidelines. We want to make sure your family is protected as well as our employees.” casitatacos.com
  19. Casa Tina: The popular Mexican eatery will not be open for Cinco de Mayo, but is doing a virtual Cinco de Mayo that is currently sold out. “We need to slowly work our way back to serving in the safest most responsible way that we can..I don’t like the uncertainty, I’d rather be cautious and safe. We’ve been so blessed to have our staff that we have had for many years…We want to see how it goes. We want to be cautious. We need to tread very carefully. It is our life. 28 years. We live for our business.”. casatinas.com
  20. Pacific Counter: “We have decided to stay the course with Takeout and Delivery for the time being, but will be setting up outdoor tables for guests to dine at if they’d like to remain on premise” from I Love The Burg. pacificcounter.com
  21. Coppertail Brewing Co.: “We are very eager to open these doors back up but at this time we are going to take it slow. While we could operate at a limited capacity, we will not be opening up for onsite food or beer consumption. Take out and to-go sales will continue until we feel like we can responsibly have groups in our establishment. All of this is to keep our staff and guests safe in a still uncertain time. We will keep everyone updated as we learn more and feel we are making the right decision. We miss you all, appreciate your continued support and truly can’t wait to have everyone back.” coppertailbrewing.com
  22. Ella’s: “The future is uncertain, and although we can’t wait to be able to see and serve you again, we feel that the today’s opening of Florida restaurants is a bit too soon for us here at Ella’s. We will continue to be here for all your take out needs and are working on a safe and sustainable plan to ensure the safety of our guests and our staff. Please stay tuned!”ellasfolkartcafe.com
  23. Rooster & The Till: “As the state works to open up slowly, we are not opening up our dining room just yet. We’ll continue to offer Rooster Re-Dux togo options either by calling in, or Uber Eats until we announce otherwise. Please continue to support and order togo food, and our Sunday Supper Club meals – We appreciate your support, and thank you for ordering with us. This is a fluid situation and we’re going to do what is the best and safest option for our guests and employees.” roosterandthetill.com
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Coronavirus: Orlando eatery unleashes PR crisis after saying “we are over this” and opening to angry Floridians

It is well-known that Governor DeSantis is racing towards a plan to re-open Florida in the near future. Task force members have met in recent days to discuss plans. However, one grilled cheese restaurant in Orlando area jumped the gun (Florida proverb) though and announced recently on their Facebook page “we are over this” and said they plan to open their restaurant dining room on May 1st.

What ensued afterwards was a preview for what will happen when Florida forces itself back open. Polls today show that over 70% of Floridians support social distancing rules and the current stay-at-home orders, showing that those protestors appearing on television are nothing more than an astroturf campaign funded by political groups and do not represent any major group.

One comment read “You’re over this? My grandma f*cking died because of this so I’m sorry for inconveniencing you by trying to avoid more unnecessary deaths”.

Another one said, “Guess which cheese-themed restaurant we’re all gonna be going to from now on??? Idk, but NACHO RESTAURANT”.

Some threatened to report the business to the state and also dug up their inspection reports with one person commenting, “Would you like to comment on your 14 restaurant inspection violations on March 29, 2019? Or most recently the 5 violations on November 6, 2019? Surely you’re prepared to serve food and dine in guests in the most pristine restaurant available in a post-pandemic world, right??”.

The restaurant responded to customers and actively attacked them back in what can only be described as a PR nightmare that certainly is a warning sign for other businesses out there.

The Getaway in neighboring Tampa Bay also recently had major issues when the owner recorded herself discussing employee pay and caused an uproar that led to alleged death threats and a temporary closure.

33 & Melt has since been deleted their initial post as as well as an apology that went south.

Users flooded the restaurants Facebook page and left 1-star reviews across the internet. People tagged the media and attempted to voice their concerns and anger.

Here’s the thing: most people understand that small businesses are hurting, people are reading the news and doing their best to order take-out and delivery during this time despite salary cuts, layoffs, and all around economic depression.

At the same time, the public is very concerned about their safety and the safety of employees at businesses, who are are increasingly being hospitalized and dying across the nation in essential businesses from grocery stores to meat packing facilities.

Over 40% of Americans now personally know someone who has become sick or died from COVID-19. Over 45,000 Americans have died in 2 months and thousands are currently dying every day.

The public feels a general anxiety about opening and the best way to get their support is to gradually win it over and consider all parties involved as you make announcements. Taking too harsh of a tone invites pushback and only will lead to harm to your business.

With sagging profits already an issue, the last thing any business can afford right now is a boycott (ask Shake Shack).

If you plan to re-open, make sure you communicate how you’re going to do that in phases (when the time is right), how you will work to protect your employees and customers, and how you most importantly listen to the advice of professionals. Partner with your local officials, you will need it.

If your business is really struggling, make sure to communicate that. Ask for help. The public is willing to try and support you, but first you have to respect them as well.

One of the things I have noticed the most writing about food over the last 10 years is that businesses never communicate that they are dying until it is too late. Ask for help. Be real with your supporters.

The reason why the task force exists at all is because if businesses plan together, they will have more support for re-opening in the future. If large corporations feel like they need to win over consumer sentiment and safety, there is no reason that a small business won’t find itself in the same dilemma.

Situations like these harm the ability of all businesses to move forward in the future with plans to restore consumer confidence. The reality as well is that the Florida public does not currently support re-opening and that will play a big role in how businesses are able to move forward.

Safety first.

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Coronavirus: Where to buy masks online

In recent weeks the CDC has updated their protocols to recommend that Americans wear masks or face coverings in public. N95 masks are reserved for healthcare workers, but all other masks are encouraged.

The main idea behind this push is to prevent people from spreading droplets of Coronavirus (COVID-19) to other people when they are out shopping and in public.

City of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor today announced an initiative with major businesses to get masks for employees and encourage customers to wear masks within Tampa for the health and safety of us all. Stores on the list include Publix, Home Depot, Walgreens, Target, Walmart, and others.

Here are some places where you can get masks:

  • Nextdoor: Several people have started making masks at home for others and have them for sale on the Nextdoor app. This app keeps you updated on what is happening in your specific neighborhood. Prices seem to be reasonable. Make sure you wash or disinfect masks that you buy to avoid any contamination.
  • Etsy: A number of home designers have taken to their sewing machines and are selling masks on Etsy. You will want to aim for 100% cotton masks or those made with quilt material. Prices are all over the place and be sure to clean your mask after your receive it in the mail.
  • Walmart: The most unrealiable of the bunch is Walmart. The megastore has a number of 3rd party sellers on their website selling masks. I bought some a few weeks ago, but they still haven’t shown up. It might require some patience, but it is a resource for getting masks.
  • VIDA: A fashion start-up based in San Francisco is selling $10 protective masks for the public. The price goes down the more masks you order. 10% of the proceeds are donated to SF-Marin Food Bank and Food Bank NYC to support COVID-19 relief efforts.
  • StringKing: This is a big supplier based in Los Angeles that can handle large orders for masks. They make individual re-usable masks for $6 and 50 disposable 3 ply masks for $39.99. There is a wait period for shipments so expect to wait a few weeks before your masks will arrive.

I hope this helps. Stay safe and stay home!

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Task Force to Re-Open Florida Prioritizes ‘Consumer Sentiment’

I took some time earlier today to listen in on the Re-Open Florida Task Force Industry Working Group. The discussion today was about tourism and the restaurant industry, two industries I am quite familiar with as a food writer in Florida.

A number of CEOs and advocates for industry players spent time talking about their recommendations for Florida to re-open for business. One thing most of them left out was the vital importance of widespread testing and how Florida still is not at a stage where opening is safe for the public.

Most speakers on the call brought up the fact that Florida’s small businesses in the restaurant industry may not survive if they do not re-open in the next month or so.

There was plenty of commonalities between speakers with most of them stressing consumer sentiment and employee safety. The executives seemed divided on how exactly that could be achieved, but they all agreed if they cannot achieve those basic tenets that it will be dangerous for them to re-open.

Things mentioned included masks, temperature checks, phases of social distancing, bacterial cleanings of hotel rooms, PPE, paid sick leave, among other things. Stakeholders mentioned that without these things employees would not feel a desire to return to their jobs and that the public would be uneasy to come back.Subscribe

Notably, these materials are barely available at the moment for our healthcare workers who are currently in hospitals being forced to re-wear and limit masks and there is a nationwide PPE shortage. Different hospitals seem to have different supply access, although doctors and nurses continue to protest a lack of supplies as recently as today.

These materials also seem to be missing in our nursing homes which are experiencing spikes of coronavirus outbreaks across the state with over 300 ALF facilities currently dealing with positive coronavirus cases impacting patients and employees.

Jose Cil, CEO of Restaurant Brands International, discussed how his company had dealt with outbreaks of COVID-19 at other locations around the country and world with shutdowns and cleanings to try and raise consumer sentiment and that his company has spent a heavy amount of marketing capital to reassure customers that takeout and delivery are safe. One thing I noticed was that the steps he mentioned his company takes are recommended to franchisees, but not necessarily required or forced on them.

One of the main issues with choosing to re-open restaurants is that COVID-19 can be spread through droplets and even through breathing from those infected with the virus, a study from Iceland says an estimated 50% of carriers are asymptomatic, therefore it would be hard to know who actually has the virus without more intensive testing. Another study recently reports that 9 people became infected when sitting next to a COVID-19 carrier in a restaurant.

It would be very difficult to ensure that COVID-19 could not be spread in a dining room to employees and other guests. One of the solutions that was proposed was to slowly lift social distancing in phases as Florida monitors the virus.

The amount of oversight to enforce any of these things sounds like it would be quite a burden for the state to actually implement and would most likely leave the burden on businesses themselves.

The task force lacks any doctors to recommend how to proceed, which is remarkable considering that Florida continues to have hundreds of hospitalizations and dozens of deaths nearly every day so far. Without any doctors on the task force, it seems we are forced to trust business professionals whose first priority seems to be sagging profits and a dire need to restart.

During the phone call, bed tax and sales tax revenue were brought up over and over again as hotel owners and restaurant groups reminded listeners that the state funds rely on taxes from their industry to function.

Hotel CEOs called for beaches to be opened again as amenities so that “guests can have something to do” and announced advanced talks with local officials around the state to have beaches open as soon as May 15th or earlier, according to Cody Kahn, Holiday Inn Resort Owner. The frustration with the current social distancing efforts was noticeable in the tone that Kahn displayed on the phone call.

Kahn brazenly attacked “fake news” and “CNN” media for their role in the current crisis and commended President Trump for doing a great job, despite over 45,000 Americans deaths in the last two months and climbing. The comments did not seem constructive to the goals of the task force and were aired on live television and throughout Facebook and social media websites.

One of the most bizarre parts of the phone call was when Visit Florida President and CEO, Dana Young, called for a marketing plan that would pitch Floridians to take a vacation within the state and support local businesses since the state cannot currently rely on international travelers to fuel Florida’s tourism industry as COVID-19 continues to spread.

This plan seemed tone-deaf and completely disconnected from a world where hundreds of thousands of Floridians are waiting for their unemployment checks to be processed after weeks of issues online and can barely eat at the moment. Will those jobs that were lost magically come back when Florida re-opens as the rest of the nation battles COVID-19? That remains to be seen.

Perhaps a more prudent plan would be to defund Visit Florida and to hand the taxpayer money back to citizens who desperately need money to survive right now? That’s my thought anyway.

Walter Carpenter, NFIB Florida Leadership Council Chairman, brought up the federal Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans and said they will not be a panacea for small businesses and that ultimately re-opening is the only choice for small businesses.

PPP loans recently made headlines when they were discovered to be misused this past week and brought into the hands of 71 publicly traded corporations including Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Shake Shack, who returned the loan after fierce criticism that continues for Ruth. The so-called small business fund was quickly exhausted and although Congress has passed an additional package, they did not close the loophole that will allow corporations to swallow the funds. Most experts say the new funds will only last 72 hours when they are released to banks.

Ultimately, there is no perfect solution to the current crisis Florida faces and coronavirus continues to spread across the state as businesses feel continued pressure to pay rent and employees without aid.

Opening too soon could have dire consequences. If the deaths rise too fast and become a public health emergency as many epidemiologists are currently warning, Florida could be forced to close again and that may tarnish consumer sentiment in the long-term for these businesses that are already struggling to survive.

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A message from our fearless leader @foodchainz: “In order to maintain a comfortable level of safety for our staff and customers, Grindhouse will not open its dining rooms on Monday, April 27th. Despite the announcement from Gov. Kemp to encourage reopening, we feel it is far too soon to allow on-site dining. That said, we will continue to offer pickup and delivery via DoorDash. We’re grateful for the outpour of support received from our communities during this difficult time. It’s been our privilege to serve you in a meaningful and safe way. We look forward to continue providing that experience while keeping the health of our patrons and staff a top priority.” – Alex Brounstein, Owner | Grindhouse Killer Burgers ________________________ So, Grindhouse Family, while we’re anxious to fully reopen, we’ve decided against it for the safety of our customers and our staff. When we feel it’s once again safe and responsible to host you in our dining rooms, we’ll make an announcement providing a specific date and details. Til then, we’re still here for your takeout needs. In addition to the regular menu, our special Provisions Menu for cook-at-home options is also still available. _______________________ Stay safe and smart out there! _______________________ See how Grindhouse and other #ATLrestaurants are responding to #GovernorKemp. Article link in bio.

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Several restaurants in Georgia announced today that they will not re-open despite Governor Kemp declaring that all restaurants will begin to re-open on Monday, as he lifts the stay-at-home order in his state. Many restaurants voiced concern for their employees health and their customers, customers also rallied to punish businesses who put their employees health in danger.

This balance will be very important for Florida to consider as Governor DeSantis pushes for the state to re-open and President Trump calls for an end to stay-at-home orders. We could have a bigger crisis on our hands with a false start and most businesses seem to be leery of that potential that could be on the horizon soon.

Public safety needs to be the top priority. I believe the working group should seek more input from doctors and ground their approach in science or they may lose consumer sentiment and employees in the long-term as well as tarnish their brands and put Florida into a major crisis. The state should seek more relief for more businesses as soon as possible, they will need it.

People don’t need to “seem comfortable” they need to actually be safe.

Follow Carlos Hernandez on Twitter @CarlosEats or visit him at CarlosEats.com

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Boycott Ruth’s Chris trends as Shake Shack gives back PPP loan money

Update 4/25: Ruth’s Chris has agreed to give back the money after a federal announcement that those who misuse the funds will be invesitgated and after hundreds of thousands petitioned for the money to be given back.

Now that Shake Shack has agreed to give back the $10 million they took from small businesses, it’s time to talk about Ruth’s Chris Steak House. To be quite honest, I am not a regular at Ruth’s Chris and have only been there once for a wine dinner.

Regardless – the fact they took $20 million (double the maximum) from the small businesses PPP from taxpayers is also deplorable behavior. Perhaps Ruth’s Chris does not care that people are about to lose their livelihood, I don’t know.

Shake Shack CEO Danny Meyer wrote on LinkedIn that he didn’t intend to take money from small businesses and thought there would be enough, however that’s hard to believe considering that the money was always going to be limited in the first place.

Several chefs rightfully criticized the fact that Shake Shack was able to take the money at all.

The moral ground for Ruth’s Chris to keep the money has now been exposed as Shake Shack gave back what they took and no doubt this is leading for calls for a boycott of Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

Petitions are starting to circulate.

Judd Legum has taken a deep dive into Ruth’s Chris and I suggest you read it: https://popular.info/p/a-raw-deal

Obviously there is a bigger Congress issue at bay as well. The small business loan fund is clearly flawed and we need action to demand that the next round of funds which is about to pass actually gets to the small businesses who need them.

Hopefully that happens.

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Boycott: I will not eat at Shake Shack again in the future and neither should you

Update 4/20: Shake Shack says they are returning the $10 million PPP loan meant for small businesses. This is the right move and I am thankful that they have made this decision so our small businesses can have a chance at survival.

Shake Shack for a long time was a great place to enjoy a quality burger, but lately the chain with over 300 locations worldwide has run into a nasty PR crisis thanks to them taking $10 million out of the United States government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Payroll Protection Program relief despite being worth well over $1 billion dollars and publicly traded.

The chain sold off $75 million in shares after the taxpayer acquisition and also laid off over 1,000 of its employees before the Coronavirus has even hit its peak. Shake Shack has shown itself to be an empty-suit corporation with no values that will discard others in the industry and then soak up taxpayer cash for its own advantage.

This deplorable move comes at a time when our mom-and-pop small businesses are fighting for survival and is unacceptable, millions of small businesses were left out of relief. I will never eat at Shake Shack again. Take your $16 burger combo and die off in peace.

Shake Shack should return the $10 million they stole. I am sure there are thousands of small restaurants about to die off who would appreciate it. It didn’t have to be this way.

I hope others will join me in boycotting Shake Shack and their behavior during a time when unity is desperately needed for survival as the restaurant industry faces the worst crisis in history. We cannot have a few players swallowing all the cash that others really need during this time.

As consumers we should send a message to Shake Shack and all big chains that we will not support this disgusting greed.

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List: Restaurants open for takeout and delivery in Tampa Bay during COVID-19

Looking to support local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is a list of restaurants that are open for takeout and/or delivery in Tampa Bay. The list is constantly changing as restaurants are opening and closing so please call to make sure or check their websites and social media that are linked.

Hillsborough County:

Pinellas County:

  • Dr. BBQ: 1101 1st Ave. S., St. Petersburg, FL 33705, (727) 443-7227
  • Pacific Counter: 660 Central Ave, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, (727) 440-7008

Pasco County:

Send me your list to carloseats[at]gmail[dot]com