Restauranteurs rushed to their suppliers for clamshell take-out boxes and plastic cutlery last week after Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered the closure of dining facilities throughout the state Tuesday, March 17, in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor and president are asking civilians to put normal activities on hold and sacrifice their comfort in order to save the lives of those who are more susceptible to the disease and in greater danger. That means people are asked to avoid crowds and close contact with others, such as one would experience when dining in a restaurant.

Holcomb did not restrict carry-out orders or delivery service, and area restaurants switched gears overnight and were ready to serve meals on the go by morning.

But customers are still staying away in droves, causing creativity among restaurant owners.

changes in service

Cubbard, situated in Cowan’s Drug Store in Lebanon, kept serving her daily specials, chicken pot pie served in disposable tins last Wednesday and beef and noodles over mashed potatoes last Thursday.

But obtaining the food was a little like trying to get into a speakeasy.

Restaurant customers drive through the alley behind the store and knock on the back door. Trott or a server will run out the back door and deliver food and take payment for those who called ahead. Or, she’ll take an order over the phone and run it out in a few minutes.

Despite the change, business was going well Thursday, server Heather McKinney said.

The town of Zionsville last week established special curbside parking spaces in front of local restaurants for the duration of COVID-19. Special signs are now in place marking the spaces that allow 15 minutes of parking for food pickup.

Zionsville’s Salty Cowboy, for instance, is offering margarita kids and specials and has limited-contact curbside service and delivery. Register for email updates at saltycowboytequileriacom.saas.setupwebsitelink.com/email/view/facebook/c44c25202ec0402587d899386770da1b.

The Friendly Tavern prepared regular Friday specials last week, country fried chicken and roast beef Manhattan, and took pre-orders for wings. Call ahead at 317 873-5772.

hard hit

A shortage of customers for some is causing restaurant layoffs, short paychecks and lost tips – the bread and butter of food servers’ income. Cooks, dish washers, hostesses, cashiers and bartenders are in the same boat.

“We had to lay off all our servers and bartenders,” Travis Wright, Buffalo Wild Wings assistant manager, said.

Management sought volunteers for layoffs before choosing those to send home, Wright said. “I’m one of the people who god laid off,” he said, adding that he had volunteered for it.

“I’m financially stable, so give the hours to people who need them,” he said. “I just had a newborn last week, my wife is a nurse on maternity leave, and I’d rather spend time with her and my new baby.”

BW3’s owner instructed those who were laid off to seek unemployment, “And everybody is guaranteed to have their job when they come back,” Wright said.

BW3’s business dropped by about 90% Wednesday, he said, but the restaurant is offering delivery and curbside carryout. “We’ll bring it out to you,” he said. “You can order online or on the phone.”

A woman working at Gordman’s grand opening Tuesday said she hoped the government doesn’t also shut down retail stories. She was a refugee from Buffalo Wild Wings’ layoff and appreciative of the new job. She said she feared losing two jobs in the same week.

Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches already did healthy drive-thru and delivery business, but even delivery orders dipped this week, Lorenda Nance said.

Drive-thru business also shifted from orders made at the speaker outside the restaurant to orders made and paid for online, Nance said.

Those who prepay can just pick up their bag at the drive-thru window without handing their debit card to an employee and accepting its return, and many customers seemed more comfortable with that option, she said.

Maria Flora writes for The Lebanon Reporter. Email her at maria.flora@reporter.net.

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