As physical distancing becomes a fact of life in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, local businesses have had to adjust their operations to fit the new reality. For Abe’s Modern Diner, that has meant a complete reinvention.
“We’ve been forced to be creative to make it work, and grow and learn things that we would have never learned if we weren’t in this situation,” said Aliser Gonzalez, who owns the restaurant along with her husband Luis. “Although it’s uncertain and it’s been stressful and we don’t know how long it’s going to go for, we are very grateful for the opportunity of being able to learn. We always try to stay positive.”
The pandemic has completely flipped the restaurant “upside down,” Luis added.
“We had to reinvent the ways we did things, because we went from a sit-down place – full service, liquor licence, everything else – and now we’re a full-on takeout place,” he said.
In the initial day, it was a challenge to adjust to doing business during COVID-19, the owners said.
“The first three days of doing takeout were so stressful and so chaotic,” Gonzalez said.
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The restaurant has since adjusted, and increased its efficiency so that customers are not waiting around for their food. Abe’s has scheduled food pickups every five minutes, Gonzalez said, and by the time the customer arrives, their order is ready and the payment terminal is set so they can walk in, pay and walk out with their dinner.
“Everybody is respecting the distance that we are supposed to keep,” she said
“The least amount of contact that we do, that’s what we’re aiming for,” Luis added.
Among the many changes the owners have had to implement, the restaurant has now adjusted its hours of operations, and Luis said the kitchen has been reconfigured to accommodate a workflow that is more efficient for takeout orders. Some less popular items – soups and salads – have been dropped from the menu, he said. While the restaurant has been able to keep on its kitchen staff – albeit with reduced hours – unfortunately, the serving staff has been let go.
“Although we did make a lot of changes to make takeout work…the restaurant is not built and designed to only do takeout,” Gonzalez said.
With dining space for only 35 people, the establishment’s small kitchen is intended to serve that limited amount of people. Now, according to Gonzalez, Abe’s is taking orders for the same amount of customers that it would normally see in an hour and half in the span of 15 minutes.
“Sometimes we need to shutdown SkipTheDishes, sometimes when people call we tell them the wait time is one hour and 30 minutes,” she said.
Sales are down, the couple said, but even so, the community continues to support the diner. Gonzalez said, with only a handful of exceptions, customers are patient and understanding about the longer wait times, and regulars continue to order on a consistent basis. That continued support will ensure the restaurant remains open.
“We always encourage people to support local…because without their support, we definitely would shut down,” Gonzalez said.
Besides ordering from local restaurants, the couple said recommending your favourite food options either with word of mouth or with a social media post can also help dispel fears people may have about ordering takeout during the pandemic.