Longtime waitress Melissa Collier stood in the doorway of the 2400 Diner the day after Gov. Ralph Northam said that restaurants could only have 10 patrons at a time.
The family-owned restaurant at 2400 Princess Anne St., she told customers, was now offering curbside takeout orders only.
“The first two days I made more on my shift than the restaurant did because people were leaving $20 or $10 bills as tips,” Collier said. “I think now that people are getting more used to takeout, they’re tipping like they would have before.”
Orders from the diner’s menu, which are posted in the restaurant’s window and on its Facebook page, dropped from 80 or 90 a day to about 15 by mid-afternoon Monday. The owner, the cook and Collier, who’s been there 36 years, are still working at the diner, but the two part-timers are not.
“They still live at home with their parents, so it’s not that big a deal,” Collier said. “I’m really concerned about other businesses. I think some of the older established restaurants will be OK, and the employees will come back. I’m not so sure about the others.”
Nationally, up to 7 million jobs are expected to be lost as restaurants in Virginia and other states move to carry-out and delivery-only operations in this new era of social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, according to an article in the trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News.
The Virginia Tourism Corp. and the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging, and Travel Association have responded by teaming up to launch Virginia is for Restaurant Lovers Takeout Week. It began Monday and encourages Virginians to order takeout, delivery or curbside pickup from area restaurants through Sunday.
They’re asking participating partners and consumers to use the hashtag #VirginiaEatsLocal when posting on social media, and Virginia Tourism is selling limited-edition “Virginia is for Restaurant Lovers” T-shirts at thevastore.com. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to local relief efforts for food service workers in crisis.
“Virginia’s restaurant industry has been hit especially hard during this time,” Eric Terry, president of Virginia Restaurant, Lodging, and Travel Association, said in a news release. “Restaurants are so vital to our economy and we encourage those who can afford to do so to continue to help out these establishments that have helped to put Virginia on the map.”
A list of participating restaurants is available at blog.virginia.org/2020/03/restaurant-takeout-week.
Among them is Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, one of the few remaining businesses open in The Village at Towne Centre. It has seen business drop off significantly since it had to switch to only takeout, curbside and delivery orders.
“It’s nowhere close to the levels we were doing before,” said Brian Lengle, managing partner of the national chain’s location in Spotsylvania County.
The restaurant has coped by furloughing most of its 93 employees, streamlining its menu and creating family meals for four that start at $29.95.
“That’s something we’ve never offered before to try and make that a little bit more appetizing,” Lengle said. “We’re also offering what we call our Butcher Shop, which is raw cut steaks so people can take those home and cook them at their house, and have discounted some of our wines and beers to go, as well.”
Most customers are calling in their orders or placing them online to limit contact, although two have stopped by to place them in person, he said. Orders can be delivered by Door Dash or handed to them by an employee standing outside the restaurant. If they sign for a check instead of paying online, the employee will sanitize the check tray and pen, and then change their disposable gloves.
Payments, including tips, for the to-go orders are going into an emergency assistance fund to help the restaurant’s furloughed employees. They were also sent a letter last week saying that they could come by between 2 and 4 p.m. Tuesday to get one of those family meal packages for free. Tucked inside was a thank you note letting them know that Firebirds is thinking of them.
“I had 34 show up today,” Lengle said. “That’s about a third to a half of our staff, which is great.”
He said that Northam ordering Virginians to stay at home with few exceptions, which include getting food, may have kept some employees away.
Over in Stafford County, Potomac Point winery is concentrating more on the food side of its business in an effort to keep the bistro afloat, said co-owner Cindi Causey. Wine tastings have been put on hold for now, but customers can stop by to pick up to-go orders or have them delivered within a 6-mile radius.
She said that there isn’t another restaurant in Widewater, and people suffering from cabin fever have been driving to the winery to get out of the house. She expects that the winery probably will be making more deliveries as a result of Northam’s latest directive.
“We do wine cakes in-house for birthdays, anniversaries and other special events. Now we’re making them to go so people can order at home. That’s been pretty popular. They’re yummy,” Causey said. “I would love to do a way to do wine ice cream, but I don’t have any way to deliver that.”