BizWorthy: Charlotte Restaurants Scrambling To Reopen For Phase 2

May 21, 2020

Restaurants in North Carolina can reopen their dining rooms this weekend. Barbershops and hair salons can also reopen. It’s part of Phase 2 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening plan. Those businesses will have to limit the number of customers inside at one time. They’ll also have to implement social distancing measures.

For more we now turn to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: Tony, many of these businesses have been closed for about two months now. How challenging is it to just restart all of a sudden?

Tony Mecia: It's really challenging, Marshall. There are a lot of things that they have to do to get ready. We've talked to a number of business owners, different restaurant owners, and it's not just a matter of flipping a switch and everything's back on.

They have to figure out how much food to order, how much staff to bring back, how to organize their tables, what sort of safety measures to put in. They have to get masks, hand sanitizer, new signs.

There are all kinds of things that they have to do. They're having to do it, by the way, now pretty short order because they've had to wait for a while to see what exactly the rules were going to be. So they're really scrambling. Some of them are very eager to open up. Some of them, but it's gonna be a little while. But I mean, there's definitely a lot of planning and a lot of calculation -- a lot of things to do in these restaurants.

Terry: And, of course, this is Memorial Day weekend. Is that an extra challenge?

Mecia: I think it is. You know, one of the things that's really hard for them to do is it's going to be hard to predict how many people are coming back, exactly. And I think that's exacerbated by the fact that's going be a long weekend. You're going to have some people out of town. But, you know, it's a big question: how many are going to actually go out on Day 1 when they're able to? Surveys have shown, Marshall, that a lot of people are very reluctant to go out early.

Even after 30 days -- or 60 days -- still only about maybe half of the people are gonna be interested in going out to restaurants. So for restaurants, it's gonna be really tricky to see and try to estimate how much staff they need, how much food they need when they don't know how many customers they're going to have.

Terry: Since restaurants do have to limit capacity, is it even worth it for some of them financially to reopen at this point?

Mecia: Well, that's a good question. Every restaurant has to make its own calculation on that. For restaurants that are smaller, it might not make a lot of sense. At the Ledger, we talked to a number of different restaurant owners who said, "You know, it might not really make sense for me to reopen because if I can only get half the number of people in here, the economics just don't work in terms of the staff that you still have to have if you're not able to seat that many people."

Now, one of the things that's really interesting, I think, Marshall, that some restaurants are doing -- I think you're going to see a move toward trying to create more outdoor space. I talked to a number of people this week in the events industry that rent out tents, for example. And they said they're very busy supplying tents to restaurants that maybe, you know, are setting up outdoor seating in a little side area or in a parking lot. People, I think, tend to feel safer outdoors. There's some evidence to suggest that the virus doesn't spread as easily outdoors. So they're trying to ramp up some of this outdoor seating, which is sort of an interesting twist.

Terry: With it being Memorial Day weekend, many people are probably going to Myrtle Beach. Tony, you spoke with tourism officials there. What did they say will be different for beach-goers this year?

Mecia: Well, it's interesting, Marshall. Usually when you talk to tourism officials, they are very gung-ho about, "We're ready, we're open. There are lots of great things here." The people at Myrtle Beach, the tourism people I talked with there, they're a little more hesitant to say those kind of things this time around. The message really is more like, "We're open. We're here. People need to recalibrate their expectations on what it might be like." Because the restaurants are not fully open and some of them are just doing takeout service. The hotels are taking measures to keep people socially distanced. There are rules on pools opening -- so if you like sitting by the pool at the beach, you know, the number of pool chairs is going to be diminished greatly.

So it's going to be a big change, I think, for people going to the beach -- unless they just like to sit on the beach or if they like to play golf. Those are a couple things that haven't really changed that much. But for a lot of other people, I think there will be some changes.

Terry: Finally, while many retailers have not been doing well during the pandemic, both Lowe's and Home Depot have reported an increase in sales in the first quarter. Is this because everyone's been doing home improvement projects while stuck inside?

Mecia: The short answer, I think, is yes. I think they have seen a pretty big increase from people that are doing these home improvement projects, that are planting bushes, that are getting mulch. The construction industry, you know, a lot of it has gone on as well. That's a pretty big portion of it. Lowe's said that this week that it's same-store sales in the most recent quarter were up 11%, which is a pretty big increase.

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