Running a successful restaurant can be a challenging endeavor, but now restrictions, impacts and concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic have added even more complexity to the equation.
With dine-in still limited to 50% of building occupancy, some restaurant operations are expected to ring up significantly fewer sales. Nationwide, when most dining areas of restaurants were closed because of COVID-19 orders, the take-out and delivery functions provided only about half of normal sales, $33 billion in April 2020, compared to $65.4 billion in February 2020, according to a National Restaurant Association report on a U.S. Census Bureau survey. Adjusting for inflation, that was the lowest sales amount recorded for the industry since October 1984.
Still some casual dining restaurants are opening in Roswell, adjusting to increased cleaning protocols, changing supply chains, new questions about workforce availability and other challenges.
Dion’s, the first Roswell location of an Albuquerque-based chain of about 25 pizza, sub and sandwich restaurants, opens today with about 75 employees, many of whom are students starting their first jobs, according to Deena Crawley, chief of staff and director of marketing. Dion’s is located at 1350 S. Main St. in the Roswell Pavilion shopping center.
“When we broke ground on Roswell, we were not anticipating COVID-19,” she said. “The past three months, we have learned a lot about our operations, and we will take that experience to Roswell.”
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She said that supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in huge swings in cheese prices for the company. During the past six weeks, prices have ranged from $1 a pound to $2.55 a pound. Meat supplies also have been affected, due to plant shutdowns or reduced labor at processing sites, Crawley said.
She said the company also has to develop enhanced protocols for health safety for both customers and employees. In addition to social distancing, increasing sanitizing procedures throughout the building and COVID-19 training methods, Dion’s is packaging all food as if it is a to-go order, even if people intend to eat in the dining room. They also had to close the “kid stand,” what Crawley described as a popular station where youth could watch pizzas being made.
She said the restaurant is also working to be a good community player during a time of crisis, donating food to Roswell health care professionals and trying to be responsive to their college and high school workers, as school schedules change.
“When COVID happened, the students who were in high school or had a more traditional day-schedule were all the sudden free,” Crawley said, “so, of course, they wanted to pick up a lot more of those day-crew shifts. … While it is unclear what will happen to school schedules, I anticipate there will still be some flexibility in schedules if they are still doing online classes.”
Another new restaurant for the area, WingStop, part of the Vibe Restaurant Group of Dallas that owns the two Little Caesar’s restaurants in the city, opened Wednesday in the Landing Site Plaza in the 200 block of North Main Street.
Its company representative has said that the group chose Roswell for its first WingStop franchise. Due to franchiser guidelines, the location plans at this point to offer delivery and take-out only.
Blake’s Lotaburger, also an Albuquerque-based chain, is still on schedule to open on North Main Street in September, with hiring anticipated to occur sometime in July.
COVID-19 restrictions have meant that some of its locations cannot open their lobbies at all because the indoor area is too small to allow for effective social distancing, said Marketing Director Alice Skousen. But the Roswell location is being built with a full lobby able to accommodate some diners.
While the company saw some difficulties with supplies for its chicken sandwich for a while, Skousen said the chain’s greatest challenge has been finding new ways to serve customers.
“It is a big shift in your customer,” she said. “And the other issue is, just like Dion’s, we are cook-to-order and it takes longer when you cook to order. When you have a big line at the drive-thru, it is a little slower.”
She said the company also had to establish a partnership with a delivery company and adjust to online sales.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.