POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Restaurants owners and managers are learning they have to quickly adapt to an unprecedented time in order to keep their staff on the payroll.
In downtown Lakeland, more than half a dozen restaurants opened in just the last two years.
“We have some vulnerable folks that really need support,” said Julie Townsend, executive director of Lakeland Downtown Development Authority.
She spent Wednesday morning posting signs for curbside pick-up and drop-off only parking spots as several restaurants move to a delivery and take-out business model as a result of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.
Governor Ron DeSantis ordered all bars and nightclubs to close as of Tuesday night and limited restaurants to 50% capacity.
“We opened here about 8 months ago and we were finally starting to see the light and now we have to kind of batten down the hatches,” said Marcos Fernandez, owner of Nineteen Sixty-One, an upscale Latin restaurant downtown.
Fernandez said he is doing what he can to continue to provide his employees with a paycheck.
“We have a lot of staff that we have to figure out – what are we gonna do with? I don’t want to have to let them go because they also have families. We’re trying to figure out ways to keep them employed,” said Fernandez.
Fernandez is beginning to offer delivery, including GrubHub, free kids meals and family-style take out meals.
“We have all this product in our kitchen: celery, onions, carrots. If you need it, we’ll prep it for you. You can finish it at home. We’re gonna sell black beans by the quart,” he said.
“We have our tables set 6 feet apart from each other,” said Chasity Sorrell, a supervisor at Black & Brew, a coffeehouse.
Some tables in the coffee shop are closed to create distance between dine-in guests.
There has also been a shift to curbside pick-up.
“People are letting us know, ‘What kind of car do you have? What do you drive?’ We can bring it right out to you, just so they don’t have to get out of the car and they can feel safer,” said Sorrell.
The state of Florida made its Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program available to small business owners experiencing economic hardships as a result of COVID-19.
The loans are meant to bridge the gap between this emergency and long term recovery resources.
In the meantime, consumers are urged to support local businesses.
“You can still get your favorite foods from your favorite restaurants. Come in and buy gift certificates, gift cards to help sustain them,” said Townsend.
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