Social distancing requirements due to COVID-19 created major shifts in the restaurant business, affecting the service, employees, and profits.
“At the beginning it was extremely difficult because we were losing most of our clients,” Guido Mastrobalo, owner of Geo Gelati, a gelato shop on Union Street said. “We are still not able to sell the gelato in the way we would have loved to.”
Many shops in the City are still open for takeout. Employees are required by the U.S. Department of Health to wear masks and gloves and drop off food at the door to customers waiting 6 feet apart.
“In our neighborhood people know us and have known us for a long time so we have been getting some customers coming in, just not enough to be very profitable,” Vanick Der Bedrossian, owner of La Mediterranee, a restaurant on Fillmore Street said. “We want to be open for the community and serve people who are looking for some comfort and food in this time of crisis.”
Most restaurants have ways to order online to reduce person-to-person contact at the restaurant. Restaurants are also putting in other safety measures to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
“We have learned how to produce the gelato in a safe way and how to serve it in a safe way with masks, gloves and one person at a time,” Mastrobalo said, “but still we are missing a very important part of our work — revenues.”
With fewer people on the streets, Mastrobalo and other restaurant owners have found that their business has decreased significantly.
“We are working a little bit, but much less compared to what we usually do in this season, our big season,” Mastrobalo said. “The challenge is that we usually make the money now to pay our rent in January, February and March.”
Supporting smaller owned restaurants can help the restaurants survive, as many are financially struggling. La Mediterranee has had a 75% to 85% reduction of its business, according to Der Bedrossian.
“I think that during this time ordering from local businesses can be very beneficial because it helps them earn an income during a difficult time,” sophomore Olivia Williams, who has been ordering take out with her family said. “We’ve also been trying to tip more.”
In attempts to cut costs, restaurant owners have had to let go of many of their employees. Many restaurants are now working with the minimal number of workers as possible, who remain on strict social distancing policies, according to Der Bedossian.
“We have four resturants and we used to have 130 employes,” Der Bedrossian said. “Now we are operating with less than 30, everyone has been laid off.”
Despite the hardships and challenges his shop has faced due to the pandemic, Mastrobalo says it has shown him how much the community values Geo Gelati.
“We were pleasantly surprised by the community who were very supportive,” Mastrobalo said. “It’s one thing to have the client come when everything is normal, but it’s even better when it becomes challenging and they still find time to go buy some gelato.”