The private dining room at Jerry’s Seafood has been turned into a pickup window, one example of how Bowie restaurant owners have had to adapt to survive financially since businesses closed to the public due to COVID-19.
Starting June 15, restaurants in Prince George’s County were allowed to re-open their indoor dining rooms with 50% capacity and social distancing, but Operating Partner Phil Gainey of Jerry’s Seafood said they will continue to operate as a carryout only for now.
Their employees couldn’t make as much as they would have made prior to COVID-19, he said. Their income would also be lower if they came back to work at a 50% capacity restaurant than what they are receiving from federal and state unemployment programs, he said. He wants what is best for his employees’ health and finances, he said.
“I would have to bring in four or five servers, and I can’t guarantee them anything,” he said.
Gainey said the restaurants carryout business was strong before the pandemic and that customers have been very supportive through the crisis. The restaurant also ships crab cakes and cream of crab soup nationally, an aspect that has quadrupled during the pandemic, Gainey said. They are taking it day by day and looking forward to having customers back in the restaurant at full capacity.
“There’s not much to look at other than the unknown,” he said.
Dining rooms are also still closed at Negril The Jamaican Eatery locations in Bowie, Montgomery County and Washington, D.C. Owner Brian Chinn said their dining rooms will remain closed for the foreseeable future to keep staff safe, adding that their business was predominantly take-out before COVID-19.
He said they saw a drop in business at the end of March and start of April, when restrictions were first put in place. The restaurant had partnered with the delivery service Doordash before the pandemic, which helped them greatly when there was no foot traffic in stores, and brought new customers to them, Chinn said.
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Now, their take-out business is doing even better than last year, he said.
One challenge has been keeping track of fluctuations in food costs caused by COVID-19, to ensure the business isn’t losing money when the cost of beef or other products go up.
“You need to know the numbers and make sure you’re not working just to work,” he said.
Rip’s Country Inn is one Bowie restaurant that has reopened with 50% seating capacity, and General Manager Caroline Middleton said it has been nice to see customers again. They have also expanded their outdoor patio seating from four tables to the entire length of the building.
They are seeing more customers each week, and are being careful to take steps to protect them, Middleton said. Every 30 minutes an alarm goes off and workers are asked to sanitize a surface and wash their hands.
When the restaurant was closed to the public they had to come up with ways to interact with regular customers, such as selling take-home meal kits for dishes like cheesy potatoes gratin. They hope to continue expanding service as the government allows, and may keep the take-home meals as an extra source of revenue, and a way to keep in touch with customers who are more at-risk of harm from COVID-19.
“It had been a kind of lonely 12 weeks,” Middleton said.