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:
BENTO Asian Kitchen + Sushi is opening their first Tampa location near USF in September 2020.
The 100-seat, 2,800 square-foot eatery will be located at 5103 East Fowler Avenueacross from the new Chipotle, Blaze Pizza, and University of South Florida campus. Fans of the Florida-based chain have long been asking for a location to open in Tampa.
“Our first BENTO location opened in the small college town of Gainesville 18 years ago in 2002 and was an almost instant hit amongst the University of Florida student crowd. Following that success, we’ve opened in college communities across Florida from UNF Jacksonville to UCF Orlando to FSU Tallahassee to USF St. Pete. Tampa has been one of our highest-requested cities so we were ecstatic to have found a spot that would be easily accessible for USF Tampa students,” says Johnny Tung, co-founder.
The Tampa location will offer plenty of outdoor seating, and will feature BENTO’s signature red sushi bar, warm wood tones, and brass accents reminiscent of modern cafes and lounges found in Japan & Taiwan.
“We’ve been eyeing Tampa for a very long time. Being an economic hub in West Florida, and home to a major University as well as several well-established sports teams, we’re thrilled to finally be able to call Tampa our new home. Notably, there’s an amazing emerging food culture that we couldn’t be more excited to be a part of. The Fowler location will certainly not be the last in the area. We’re hoping to open up three more Tampa locations in the near future,” says Tung.
BENTO Tampa will mark the concept’s 17th location, and the second in the Tampa Bay area following its downtown St. Petersburg debut in the fall of 2018. It will be joining a lineup of 16 other locations across Florida including restaurants in Orlando, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Davie, Boca Raton, Pembroke Pines, Tallahassee, Kissimmee, Winter Park, and BENTO’s newest location in Oviedo.
The concept has no plans of slowing down with six more locations expected to open within the next year. Stores are planned in Dania Beach, Lake Nona, Wellington, Jacksonville Beach, Downtown Jacksonville, and Sarasota – all projected to open before 2020 comes to a close.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, BENTO has been proactive in adapting its operation to accommodate off-site dining. The launch of BENTO’s new company-wide online ordering site, in particular, is making social distancing a whole lot easier for the brand’s loyal customers.
The new ordering platform allows users to skip the line, schedule an order in advance for pickup or delivery, and pay with just a few clicks. Users also have the option to save their favorite orders, and take advantage of online-exclusive deals. There is also a mobile app version coming soon.
Following this wave, future locations will be featuring a new pick-up window for a more contact-less experience.
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”.
This week there were a number of stories happening around Black Lives Matter after the murder of George Floyd and in Tampa’s restaurant restaurant community it was no different.
A number of restaurants were navigating how to address the rising movement and protests or how to deal with the fallout of communicating about it to their customers.
The week began with a post from Lanfranco Pescante of Nocturnal Hospitality Group. A message posted online by him said “shoot them all” and drew condemnation from the local community including black leaders, bloggers, and others, led to Franco’s resignation, brought 500 protesters to Downtown Tampa at Franklin Manor, and eventually ended up leading to Celebrity Chef Fabio Viviani cutting ties with all associated restaurants from the group including many upcoming concepts around the Tampa Bay area.
This fiasco ended with the indefinite closing of all properties including Franklin Manor, Osteria Tampa, Mole y Abuela, and upcoming concepts like Shibui and La Pergola. News reports have shown that Franco is now under FBI and state investigation. Investors and employees found themselves caught in a firestorm that led to almost 200+ people losing their jobs after months of COVID-19 lockdowns.
A former investor shares this:
Next, Oxford Exchange – a popular South Tampa eatery worth millions decided to wade into the debate happening and posted that they support all lives and African-Americans, but refused to say that “Black Lives Matter” which led to people fighting in their comments until eventually the brand relented and put #blacklivesmatter into the description.
It’s important to know that when your brand has decided to take a stand on an issue, you must think about the cause you are supporting. Black Lives Matter is an issue where you must actually say it to be effective and show your solidarity.
The important thing about politics is always that if you don’t want to get involved, simply say nothing at all.
After that, popular eatery Datz in South Tampa also found themselves in a social media controversy after an employee put up Black Lives Matter on their famous signboard without talking to the owners of the business.
This led to confusion and allegations and in the end the owners decided to go forward and post it on their page and explained that they felt it was “distasteful” for their employee to add the words without thinking about how it would be displayed first since the original sign was advertising breakfast.
Finally – an employee at Seminole Heights General Storetold Creative Loafing that they were fired because of posts they made online supporting Black Lives Matter.
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:
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.
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
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.comcolumbiarestaurant.com goodygoodyburgers.com
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
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.
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
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.comyokostampa.com
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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
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
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
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
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/
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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!
We live in strange times. Chinese eateries are seeing a decline in business due to Coronavirus fears spreading throughout the United States and arguably the planet. Some Chinese restaurants in Orlando are reporting a 20-30% drop in business despite that fact that there isn’t a single case of coronavirus in Florida.
While there is nothing wrong with being prepared and conscious of what’s happening around the globe, there’s a simple fact that this virus is not in Florida at this time. I decided to eat at my one of my favorite Chinese spots in Orlando during my last visit in Mills 50 District called Chuan Lu Garden.
I have checked out a few dim sum spots nearby such as Peter’s Kitchen and Ming’s Bistro, but neither were as good as Chuan Lu Garden despite being more popular and busier establishments. Most people visit because Chuan Lu is open until 2AM and is a reliable late-night option, but for me it’s all about dim sum for breakfast.
It’s hard to find a good dim sum spot in Florida, nothing really compares to all the great spots in San Francisco. Lord knows that Yummy House in Tampa doesn’t even come close to any of the places in Orlando. I have long hoped for more dim sum options in Tampa, but that doesn’t seem to be materializing and it remains to see what kind of effect this drop in business will have on Chinese businesses.
One of my favorite dim sum choices is the egg tart. It seems simple enough, but the crust is really the key and so many places get it wrong. Some places also have terrible egg inside. It’s delicate, but delicious. Chuan Lu does it right. My only regret was not saving it for the end so I could savor the flavor in mouth for a little longer.
Salt and Pepper Squid. This is one of my favorite dishes. It was one of the only reasons I frequented Yummy House before they were closed numerous times for health code violations and slid in quality. This one was crispy and I especially enjoyed the peppers and onions. It reminded me of a breakfast hash without the potato. Not bad for a breakfast at all.
Sesame balls with red bean inside. I love red bean. It has to have just the right mix though because the flavor can be a little overwhelming for those not accustomed to regularly eating. These balls were just right for me. It was a satisfying dish that I would order again and again.
A look inside the sesame ball with red bean.
This is a must any time I grab dim sum. Shrimp and Pork Shumai. The dumplings with a mix of the two inside is savory and satisfied my craving for some meat without being just pork or beef. I personally can’t eat too much meat early on in the day.
These shrimp dumplings were probably the only disappointing part of my meal. I’ve had it before at Chuan Lu and it was much better in the past, but this time it had an aftertaste to it, probably something to do with the batter they were mixing since the other shrimp dishes were fine. It’s still one of my favorite dim sum choices so I would probably order it again in the future.
Steamed egg custard bun. This dish was tasty and a good end to our meal. It hit all the right flavors and was a nice sweeter ending to the meal. I don’t order as many buns normally because I get extremely full when I eat them.
So there you have it. Everything was mostly great and we enjoyed all this food and tea for around $30 total which is quite affordable. Dim sum in Orlando is great at many places and I hope everyone will consider supporting Chinese restaurants during this time.
Chuan Lu Garden. 1101 E. Colonial Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (407) 868-8709.
New World Brewery, a popular live-music spot with great craft beer and food that first opening in 1994 and closed in Ybor City a few years ago, is re-opening on February 12th, 2020 at 6PM with a new location near Sulphur Springs at 810 East Skagway Tampa, Florida 33604.
They will kick off their opening party with all-you-can-eat pizza and two drafts of beer for $35. Tickets are required to attend.
Roux, the New Orleans concept by Datz Restaurant Group, has ceased operations according to a report by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
The restaurant was known for serving favorites of Cajun and Creole cuisine such as jambalaya, red beans and rice, and also some of the best cornbread I have ever enjoyed in Tampa. The chefs were brought from New Orleans back in 2014 for a true experience for fans of the cuisine to enjoy.
Datz Restaurant Group is currently busy opening new restaurants across the bridge including most recently their Datz St. Petersburg branch and a cafe inside The James Museum. A new Datz location is also opening soon in Brandon.
It would seem that interest in hot pot in Tampa right now is on fire! Yum Yum Hot Pot AYCE is opening soon in Temple Terrace just minutes from USF and Tampa’s Uptown. Jennifer Will shared the news with that I can now confirm after a post about Nine Spices Hot Pot potentially coming to Fowler Avenue.
The business hasn’t posted anything yet on the social media channels it has up but their Facebook description reads: “All you can eat Hot Pot Restaurant. You cook all the fresh foods to your own liking with no grease. New dining experience await(s) you.”
Owner Cuong Chau says Yum Yum Hot Pot is still a few weeks away from completion.
The owners have also already been added to Google Maps. The location is next to Shapes Gym at 11301 North 56th street Unit #6 Temple Terrace, Florida 33617