Like every other restaurant owner, Xavier Teixido has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With his two popular Wilmington restaurants – Harry’s Savoy Grill and Kid Shelleen’s – suffering 90 and 85 percent revenue declines and the continued uncertainty around when Delaware restaurants might return to full service, he took to Facebook asking readers to weigh in on when and how they would begin eating out again if the shutdown was lifted.
Teixido’s query, “If restaurants opened for business in three weeks with limited seating and tables spaced apart, would you go? Why or why not? What would you expect from the restaurant to ensure everyone’s safety?” generated 400 comments.
The online commentary ran the gamut from many gung-ho diners who said it was time for restaurants to reopen and they would be first in line at their favorite spots to more cautious voices who said they wanted to see greater testing and precautions put in place before they dined out.
Teixido said that in the days his restaurants were open, all he had to do “to get the mail” was walk around his restaurant. “I would speak to my bar customers, I would speak to a table, I would speak to my staff.” With stay-at-home measures in place, he decided to check-in with customers over social media.
We counted the responses — 195 in favor and 105 would stay home. So about two-thirds would return to restaurants, though many expressed conditions, like a close examination of workers and diners following PPE protocols and social distancing.
Prominent local names popped up in the conversation, including former Delaware Economic Development Director Alan Levin, who is an investor in SoDel Concepts, a Sussex County restaurant group that includes Matt’s Fish Camp and Blue Coast Seafood Grill and Raw Bar.
His post has already generated nearly 400 comments. “I think it resonated with a lot of people. The other thing I really liked about it, at least on mine, is that it didn’t go political in any way,” he said.
Several other local restaurant owners republished Teixido’s informal poll through their own social media accounts, including Carl Georigi of the Platinum Dining Group who posted the survey across all six of his restaurants’ Facebook accounts.
Georigi says a tally of his Facebook polling indicates that 70% would opt to visit a restaurant in two weeks, though many under certain conditions concerning social distancing and mask-wearing.
Georigi also posted a ‘yes or no’ version of the survey on Instagram showing 88% of respondents said they would immediately come back to restaurants when they reopen.
Teixido took to Facebook amid ongoing discussions between the Delaware Restaurant Association and Governor John Carney and his staff. Teixido said he wasn’t surprised by the range of comments, which confirmed the public’s confusion and apprehension.
“You have some people that are very cautious and you have some people that say, whatever happens, happens. Some will say, ‘I’m young and brash and I’ll go sit at your bar next to a whole bunch of people and resume my life,” he said.
“There are a lot of people that are going to be apprehensive in the beginning and they’re going to want to see data and speak to friends and they’re going to want to know that it is safe to go out.”
Another observation he took away from his informal poll are the enormous responsibilities around safety he and other restaurant owners will have going forward. We have a real public responsibility here. My staff is saying, ‘I’m sure you’ll make it safe for us.’ And the guests are saying, ‘I’m sure you’ll make it safe for us.’ The reality is, we kind of don’t trust each other yet.
“We don’t have a set of rules. I don’t think the public really understands that the reason we’re doing curbside to go only is in large part for the safety of our employees. We can’t have customers walking in, sitting down, handling things,” he said.
Teixido said when it comes to reopening, Delaware needs to chart its own course for what is best for the state and that businesses like his cannot continue indefinitely just serving take-out.
“We have probably 20 people out of 160 working,” he said.
About a third of Teixido’s business at Harry’s Savoy is banquet business. He regularly hosts corporate and family events there, including weddings and fundraisers. “You know, that’s on zero, and that may be on zero for the year. Who knows right at what point can you put 100 people in a room?” he asks.
Food writer Matt Sullivan said he wants restaurants to open as soon as it’s safe to do so. He’s just not sure that could happen in two weeks. He adds that he hopes science, not the calendar, will guide the state as it makes decisions about re-opening.
“In the meantime, I fully believe we need to support our favorite restaurants with takeout and heavy tips, and I hope restaurants can become operational as soon as safely possible,” he said.