What It’s Like Running an SF Restaurant During COVID
Now that SF eateries are allowed have outdoor dinning again (albeit with very stringent social distancing rules) all staff having to wear face coverings at all times, all menus and amenities like salt and pepper shakers needing to be sanitized after each meal. It’s not an easy adjustment for the service industry during COVID. Restaurateurs who have to retrain their staff, operate at a greatly diminished capacity, and worry about getting sick themselves, all while providing excellent service and food to their cautious customers.
And that is just for restaurants lucky enough to reopen.
I ate at Zazie last week to check out the new ways people are dining during COVID. We also got to ask Zazie owner Megan Cornelius what it’s like running a restaurant with the new social distancing guidelines. We chose Zazie because it’s an SF staple with outdoor seating, and because they are employee owned, and they do hella progressive things like ‘tip free service’ and provide employee medical benefits…their food also happens to be french inspired and delicious.
Owner and Server Megan Cornelius on what it’s like running Zazie during COVID-19. She explains how Zazie is using touchless menus via QR codes, setting up outdoor tables on their patio AND their sidewalks, how they’re using yelp waitlist to cut down on lines, and juggling the ever evolving government regulations and guidelines.
(BAS) How many socially distanced tables can Zazie operate now? And, is that a sustainable model for restaurant owners?
Megan: “At the moment, Zazie has 9 tables out front, and 7 tables on our patio (Zazie had 32 tables in operation before COVID). Finnegans Wake, the bar next door has allowed us to put 4 tables in front of their entrance as they aren’t open yet, but with the new regulations of bars being able to open up for outside drinks, we may lose those in a few weeks. We’re trying to figure out something that works best for us all in the long run.
Considering that we are at less than half capacity, no this is not sustainable for most restaurants, especially those who have no access to outside spaces. Then REALLY considering that we are trying to recoup half a million dollars in lost revenue since March 17th when SIP began, this is absolutely not a realistic business model. We are trying to make the best of it, but are we losing money daily, from where we were just 3 months ago….YES. And if WE are, than I have no idea how other places are maintaining at all.”
Are there party size/group limits?
“We can seat up to 6 guests at a table, at this point. The latest info from The Department of Public Health on June 15th, states that “other outdoor gatherings among people from more than one household or living unit for ceremonial, religious or other purposes can involve no more than 12 people total.” We’ve had to cancel many of our scheduled Patio Buyouts and large parties, again losing significant revenue, but even a buyout we had booked for only 16 guests is impossible as of yet.”
Can people bring small children or babies?
Small children, babies and dogs have all been enjoying outside dining since we’ve been open.
QR codes allow patrons to order without touching menus! How is that working? Any issues?
We’ve had a few issues with the QR codes system crashing, so we’ve had to last minute print paper menus for one time use and then discard. That can get expensive and it’s wasteful. Older guests often have issues with downloading the app, or are resistant, or they can’t view the menu well on their phone due to eyesight or dim lighting, so we do have paper menus for those circumstances, which again get disposed of after a single use.
In Santa Cruz, for example, servers and bussers have new rules, servers can serve dishes, but cannot touch plates after the customer has touched them, ie only bussers can remove used plates from tables, is that the case in SF too?
That sounds like a NIGHTMARE and thank goodness the protocol is not that strict here. We are of course trying to work it that way, but it’s difficult to erase years of muscle memory and good service. Our staff has always been so busy that multitasking is simply a survival skill at this point. So it’s hard to only care for one table at a time, before you have to go inside to sanitize your hands.
On the same note, guests are used to being able to stop you whenever they need something, want to hand you something, with your hands full, etc. so I think it’s just a readjustment on both the staff and the guests part. And with still trying to keep staffing/payroll to a manageable amount, we simply don’t have the ability to only allow certain staff to do certain things. We’re all trying very hard to help one another out as much as we can. It’s the only way we’ll survive, especially considering that the tables out front are much farther from server station and kitchen than before.
Zazie is owned by some of it’s staff, how is everyone holding up? Is it more stressful working now? Is everyone healthy?We’re holding up….nobody is going to be a hero and say this isn’t the MOST difficult thing we’ve had to do. It was stressful before the SIP and ironically all the new owners had just joined our local gym to help alleviate some of that. I think we all got one workout in and BAM!
On adapting to Gov regulations:
“Everyday things are changing. Rules, regulations, protocols. We went from takeout only over the phone, to setting up a Farmer’s Market, to having a General Store selling flour, coffee, jam, hot sauce, discounted wine, eggs, toilet paper….anything we could think of to stay relevant and help the neighborhood remain positive. We set up an online ordering system with pictures of our food and a no contact payment system. We’ve sold Brunch and Dinner Kits, and auctioned off coveted items like VIP Sunday Brunch for a Year to a loyal regular who now won’t have to wait for a table, to attempting a crazy Mother’s Day Brunch To Go that was a success financially but almost killed our kitchen with over 500 orders. We’ve had to install new systems, with iPads and learn so many new ways to do a job that looks very unfamiliar to us. It is a hybrid of a restaurant….and it is extremely stressful.
“We miss being Zazie. We have something very special here and it doesn’t feel the same by a long shot, but we’re trying and we can’t wait to return to seeing regulars and tourists without masks, smiles that you can see, laughs, glasses clinking, beautiful dim lighting, garlic wafting as you open the door and enough seating to sustain ourselves.”
Anything you’d like to ask of customers (ie please stop doing this annoying thing).
They just need to be aware….keep your mask on when appropriate, especially when speaking to your server who has to wear one. And PATIENCE. We realize things are operating differently. We’ve had to make so many adjustments on our end, so please be flexible on your end. We’re literally putting our lives at risk to create a dining experience for you, so be aware and compassionate with staff and the kitchen.
“We are trying so hard, under very difficult circumstances, so kind words and encouragement are HUGE. Just a simple compliment can make a servers entire evening worth while.”
We are trying so hard, under very difficult circumstances, so kind words and encouragement are HUGE. Just a simple compliment can make a servers entire evening worth while. And an unwarranted complaint can also send them into a tailspin. My husband passed away unexpectedly mid May, so you just never know what someone is going through during these really tough times times. We’re all still trying to do our best job to create a wonderful experience.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu this month?
I love our Poulet Françoise….braised chicken stuffed with finely diced mixed mushrooms and fresh herbs, with wilted spinach over mashed potatoes and a white wine butter jus. I know it’s “just chicken” but you’ve never had it like this. A glass of Sancere, and I’m back in France.
For operating hours and menu information visit Zazie here.