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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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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

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Preparing your restaurant for COVID-19 changes

The Coronavirus or COVID-19 is drastically changing the restaurant industry like never before. Numerous restaurant chains and corporations are changing their entire business models to try and survive in this quickly moving economic scenario. Many will not survive.

Dine-in traffic is imploding as more Americans wake up to the fact that COVID-19 is very contagious and that social norms of dining out just won’t work for the forseeable future. A vaccine could be at least 14-18 months away according to some experts.

How can you prepare your restaurant for this new reality? Here are a few tips:

Pivot to delivery and take-out

Delivery was already rapidly growing before COVID-19 entered the mix. The number of people ordering on Uber EATS, DoorDash, and the like has been growing rapidly over the last few years even though those business models have yet to become profitable.

You should explore each delivery platform to see which one works best and think about how you can make the numbers add-up to make your business succeed on the platform. If you can provide your own delivery, consider that as well.

Consumers will be spending more time at home and no doubt many will not want to cook 24-7, which is an opportunity for your business to sell to customers directly in their homes.

To be successful you will need to make your list of products available to be as competitive as every chain on earth and local businesses trying to stick around all go online. You may need to simplify your menu to more profitable items and adjust with to online habits.

Make sure to calculate and ensure that there is an operational way to move forward during this time if you choose to do delivery – you will most likely need to scale labor to how much traffic you can pull. Several restaurants in Oregon recently realized that their business models were not built for delivery.

Most delivery services will claim anything from 10%-30% on delivery fees. Consider offering a discount for take-out service to convince customers to pick-up their own orders.

This won’t be easy in the least and your business will no doubt still suffer from the lack of dine-in traffic, but if you want to survive this may be the only path forward.

Prioritize safety and cleanliness

During a pandemic virus, people are going to be very nervous about cleanliness and whether their food is being handled with care, whether it is for delivery or pick-up. Safety and cleanliness for both customers and employees will be key.

The last thing you want is for an investigation to be done into your restaurant for making people work sick and for negative press to accumulate.

At the high stress levels people are experiencing right now, the chances of this happening may actually be quite high. Consider paid sick leave and absolutely do not allow sick workers to come to work and find a way to compensate them.

Institute plans for how you will verify that your workers are healthy and able to serve and be transparent with your customers about how you are protecting their safety.

It goes far beyond just an e-mail and will need to be done regularly as cases come up in the news about outbreaks in restaurants.

Consumer confidence is the key during this time. Any indication that customers should not eat at your business may lead them running to another one or instead to the grocery stores.

Marketing + Social Media could give an advantage

Social Media will be an important way to maintain your brand and still reach customers who will be either working from home, going to school at home, or just home – depending on how economic forces change in the next few months.

Don’t forget that many platforms like Facebook and Instagram offer targeted advertising so you can reach your ideal customers. While it’s true that your budget is certainly strained, if you use it wisely it will pay off.

Remember to think about what people want to click and not just what you want to say.

Consider other ways to reach customers like e-mails and text message outreach. Most customers will have be spending more time online and you need to reach them there.

Brainstorm daily deals or packages that customers can draw on like family deals, couple deals, or themed deals.

Even if your business does end up closing during this economic time, maintaining your online presence may keep your brand alive for the future when everyone eventually gets back on their feet and outside. Come up with a marketing plan that reflects this.

If you’re a known chef or restaurant consider making videos at home with cooking tips, advice for people on grocery shopping decisions, use Facebook LIVE and Instagram LIVE, there are tools out there that you can use to try and keep your brand going in this time of uncertainty. Stay in front of the face of your customers.

Reach out to influencers and media

Influencers have already-built channels as does the media that may be locally tied to your business. Many influencer events, cross-promotions, and advertisements have been canceled as the COVID-19 virus makes its mark.

If your restaurant is going to continue fighting to stay in business, consider reaching out to influencers and to the media. Consider how you can position your business in a way that is relevant to their audience during this difficult time.

Influencers have an interest in maintaining their outreach during this time and no doubt probably have some extra time on their hands. Consider how you can reach out to them in a way that is beneficial for your business…after all you want people to reach out to your business for takeout and delivery right?

As for the media, this may become more tricky as many media companies are experiencing an exodus of advertisers due to COVID-19 which is straining their staff. As with any other time period, the key is relevance for the media. Subscribe to all media sites and channels and watch what they are talking about. Follow journalists on Twitter.

When you see something relevant to your business, reach out. There is a public interest in helping both local businesses and restaurants during this time, but first you have to reach out to get your story out there. How are you coping? What are your plans for your staff? How can they help you? Messaging is the key.

Support other businesses and organizations

COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on a wide range of businesses including many local ones and organizations that are involved in helping our communities. Consider how your business can help those other groups out.

Your business will be stronger by working with others and supporting each other. Restaurants have always played a big role in the communities around them, but during COVID-19 you may need some out of the box ideas to help your fellow community partners out. They will be sure to return the favor if you do.

The “social distancing” required during COVID-19 will make people feel isolated, but if your business is proactive and tries to bring people together for a group or cause it could make a difference. Share posts from other partners in related community fields on your feed or important government updates. We are all in this together!

Questions or looking for more advice? Reach out at CarlosEats[at]gmail[dot]com or fill out my contact form.