Dublin restaurants testing new business models during pandemic

SARAH SOLE
ssole@thisweeknews.com
Summer Spaun cleans and disinfects the bar at Revelry Tavern, 6711 Dublin Center Drive, on July 8. The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has restaurants exploring new business models and practices for everything -- from cleaning to online ordering and delivery methods.

When Tucci's reopened to provide dine-in service for guests, the restaurant's management worked to make the restaurant both safe and inviting for them.

"It's a tricky equation," general manager Michael Sharp said of the balancing act, "but we do it every day."

Tucci's is one of the many restaurants in Dublin coming up with creative ways to comply with state restrictions and guidelines for restaurants and bars operating during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Visitors to Tucci's, 35 N. High St., will find framed wooden boxes sitting atop booths. The boxes, which add approximately 3 feet to the heighth of the booths, act as barriers, creating private spaces for people to dine, Sharp said.

But although Sharp said he has seen customers opt to eat inside during extremely hot weather, he calls the restaurant patio the eatery's "saving grace."

Customers say they feel comfortable dining there, especially those who have been on the fence about dining in during the pandemic, he said.

"Plus it's just a nice patio," he said.

To prepare for the reopening, Tucci's added a canopy to cover the patio, which includes 25 tables, Sharp said.

Tucci's also created a covered seating area in an adjacent alley, moving another five tables there.

The outdoor seating is a boon, Sharp said, as long as weather permits.

Indoors, Tucci's has only 16 tables. But Sharp said when the weather changes later in the year and the patio isn't as viable, "we'll get creative again."

Patio service also has been key for Napa Kitchen + Bar, 7148 Muirfield Drive.

President Tim Rollins said the restaurant was able to get city approval for temporary patio space during the pandemic.

The patio addition has made a difference, he said, because customers ask if outdoor dining is an option.

Rollins said customers have been comfortable dining inside and outside.

"It varies by customer," he said.

Still, business is down, Rollins said. The restaurant's seating capacity has decreased by about 50% because of distancing restrictions, he said.

Staff members at Revelry Tavern, 6711 Dublin Center Drive, have come up with a creative method of enforcing 6-foot distancing at the bar during busy hours.

General manager Rachel Reinke said staff members have stop-sign magnets they can stick to bar stools so that in busier times, customers know those seats are off-limits for distancing.

Revelry is a large venue and, because of that, only lost four inside tables with distancing mandates, Reinke said.

"We've actually been very fortunate through this whole process," she said.

Like Sharp, Reinke also called Revelry's patio its "saving grace."

The large patio has been the most popular for customers, she said, and tables were able to be spaced more than 6 feet apart. The number of customers who dine inside has decreased, she said.

The dining room had been used primarily for parties and work meetings, things that are no longer feasible during the pandemic, Reinke said.

Overall, the restaurant lost 25% to 33% of its total seating, she said.

"A decent amount of seating was lost but nothing crazy," she said.

Whereas the restaurant has been challenged by the closure of the movie theater during the pandemic, business is still sustainable, Reinke said.

She said she attributes that to customer loyalty, with regulars still coming in to dine. Carryout orders also have increased, she said.

Carryout also has increased at Sunny Street Cafe, 7042 Hospital Drive, but the change has proved challenging for staff members.

Prior to the pandemic, carryout accounted for about 5% to 10% of business, said Kate Mikhail, who co-owns Sunny Street with her husband, Asch Mikhail.

Since reopening, 60% of sales are dine-in, and 40% are carryout, she said.

"To operate under both business models is proving to be a challenge," she said.

Customers have grown impatient with increased wait times for orders, which, she said, is the result of staff members having to balance carryout and dine-in services. In some cases, staff members have had to learn new roles, she said.

Like other venues, Sunny Street has innovated to help customers feel more comfortable eating inside.

The Mikhails installed lattice dividers with plexiglass in between the tables, Asch Mikhail said.

"People feel really safe sitting in the booths," he said.

Despite that, he said, paying the restaurant's rent is still a struggle.

Third-party delivery services also are challenging, because 20% to 30% of the bill goes to the delivery service.

"We really need to see a good pick up in the next few months to be able to cover all expenses," he said.

Jess Kittrell, co-owner of 101 Beer Kitchen with husband Thad Kittrell, said her customers responded when the restaurant urged guests to use its own online ordering platform for carryout rather than third-party platforms.

"We saw a huge shift in our consumer behavior ... the guests were listening," she said.

101 Beer Kitchen, as a gastropub, is not built for carryout, Kittrell said. She said she and her husband already had been trying to make their restaurant more carryout-friendly even prior to the pandemic.

The first week it was closed for dine-in service, they implemented software to connect DoorDash orders to the kitchen, Kittrell said.

They also invested in better containers to help food travel safely.

Kittrell said carryout now accounts for about 35% of the eatery's business.

"It does require careful management, and I think our team has done an awesome job at it," she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah