After closing the Lost Horn Mediterranean Grill in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, owner Peter Contos is looking to open for take-out and delivery at the end of May.
The restaurant was relatively new as Contos had opened on West Kelowna’s Main Street at the end of July 2019, less than a year ago.
“We weren’t known for take-out and delivery,” Contos said, noting 98% of the restaurant’s business was dine-in.
Instead of flipping gears and diving into take-out which would have meant changing his menu quickly and competing against quick serve restaurants that had built their businesses on take-out, Contos reduced his fixed costs and took a step back.
After researching the data, he determined opening for only take-away and delivery would put the restaurant further into debt.
“I am just sitting back and balancing,” he said, adding change would have to be made methodically.
Contos has had time to take a look at what is and isn’t working in the industry and deciding what re-opening means to him, refining policies and procedures for staff.
As well, he is looking at what the new normal will be when the dining area is allowed to open, the capacity and how far apart the tables will be.
Contos is streamlining his menu, looking at what people are more likely to pick up, moving from finer dining to a little more comfort food and meals that families can share and have some leftovers for the next day.
To keep afloat during the pandemic, Contos applied for the business loans offered by the federal government, praising the federal and provincial governments for the way they are handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My landlord’s been great,” said Contos, adding they are going to look at the rent subsidy program to help them through the summer for the short term.
“I’m an optimist,” he said, adding he believes those who make the necessary changes will see their business survive.
Contos said when the Lost Horn is allowed to reopen for dine-in, it will be by reservation-only to prevent people from lining up at the door and tables will be spaced further apart.
He will also encourage guests to order online or by phone before they arrive so there will be no contact at the table.
Depending on the recommendations, they will have masks and gloves and be disinfecting and doing all the protocols required mitigating contact.
Over at Il Mercato Social Kitchen, Trevor Jones has just added Wednesday for take-out.
Il Mercato opened last September and also missed out on last summer’s tourism dollars.
By March 15, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones had laid off almost all his staff. He closed the restaurant to eat-in diners before it was mandated.
The first week of the closure, Jones said sales dropped 96% in one day.
“All of a sudden we were in the take-out business,” he said. “In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have imagined government would shut down the entire industry. “
The demand for take-out was seven or eight times more than Jones would ever have dreamed and he has hired back five people.
“It is not quite a viable business,” he said, adding at this stage the goal is to keep people working until things normalize.
“We’re losing money,” he said. “Not hordes of money, but I wouldn’t want to do it for a really long time.”
He understands how hard the industry has been hit and knows lot of people aren’t going to make it.
“I’m quite optimistic to be honest,” he said.
Early last week, Jones said there were indications dine-in restaurants would soon be allowed to re-open and he has been working on a strategy that will see a gradual opening with fewer tables.
“What we all need to do is make sure there’s not a second run,” he said.
Jones is also doing the food deliveries, as reluctant to ask an employee to buy the required special insurance needed without knowing how long it will be needed.
Jones said it might seem unusual to have a take-out meal delivered by the restaurant owner, but said it is a great opportunity to connect with a customer and tell them how much their business means.
“If there is ever a time in my life when I was thankful for an order, this is it,” he said.