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After Coronavirus Closures, Restaurants Across Tampa Bay Seek Support With Great American Takeout

Alexandra Simpson and Joe Guli of Sarasota's Tableseide Restaurant Group with Danny Garcia, chef for Libby's Neighborhood Brasserie in Lakewood Ranch
Cathy Carter
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The restaurant industry has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Like many other states, Governor Ron DeSantis recently issued an executive order that blocks Florida restaurants from serving food in their dining rooms.

A coalition of restaurants has launched an initiative called The Great American Takeout in the hopes of generating income for struggling eateries. The aim is to have patrons order at least one delivery or pick-up meal on Tuesday to support the restaurant community.

Moving forward, the idea is to promote takeout and delivery for as long as the dine-in closures last.

John Horne, president of Anna Maria Oyster Bar -- which has four locations -- says there are 25 restaurant owners in Sarasota and Manatee counties communicating on a WhatsApp stream.

They're all sharing best practices to find ways to keep their staffs working. Promoting takeout is one of them.

“Takeout is a big way to help as it keeps many people coming in and it’s a two-way street for both,” he said. “We’re providing food for those that don’t cook or prefer not to and they’re providing business and tips to help those that are working.

One idea we’re trying is to use a tip pool and spread some of the excess tips because many generous people in our community are tipping larger than normal and we want to get that to as many of our tipped employees as possible.”

CORONAVIRUS: Complete Coverage From WUSF And Health News Florida

Horne said the restaurant group is also taking measures to limit physical contact.

"We’re asking everyone to pay with a credit card and we’re writing names on bags and setting them outside on separate tables," he said. "Customers can walk up, sign a receipt, grab food and put it in their cars with no person-to-person contact."

Alexandra Simpson is with Tableseide Restaurant Group in Sarasota which operates, among others, Libby's Neighborhood Brasserie in Lakewood Ranch.

She said the restaurant has had to lay off all but five of its employees. Those workers have been creating meals for takeout and free delivery.

"We took what we still have available, you know, our fresh food and we priced it really well. So first and foremost, it is to provide a service. Secondly, it is to hopefully make it easier to reopen our doors when that time comes."

Simpson said that before the restaurant laid off its employees, management provided them with information on where to find state services, along with care packages from the kitchen.  

"Restaurants are like a family," she said. "So we gave out boxes with produce and proteins that can hopefully support their families."

Joe Guli, CEO of Tableseide Restaurant Group, said takeout is not a long-term solution for viability, but it is a way to support the community and to provide for staff still working at its Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota locations.

“The goal is to give them a paycheck to get them through until times change,” he said.

"Cities around Tampa Bay and the region, including  Sarasota, have relaxed parking regulations for curbside restaurant pickup."
Credit City of Sarasota
The Florida Channel
"Cities around Tampa Bay and the region, including Sarasota, have relaxed parking regulations for curbside restaurant pickup."

The coronavirus pandemic poses a tremendous economic threat to the restaurant industry.

According to the National Restaurant Association, Florida restaurants generated $50 billion in sales in 2018 and employed 12 percent of the state’s workforce.  

Geoff Luebkemann of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association says the restaurant industry has never experienced such a drop in business, not even after 9-11.

“Our industry lives to serve, and now we need help,” he said.  “We are among the first to ensure survivors and first responders are fed in emergencies, and now we are the ones trying to become survivors.  We ask everyone who is able to please continue patronizing our businesses to the extent allowed.”

Luebkemann added that he supports the Great American Takeout.

"This absolutely will help,” he said. “Even if for the incredible morale boost it will be to an industry on its knees."

The group spearheading the takeout initiative is asking consumers to post on social media using #thegreatamericantakeout to encourage participation.

According to the FDA, currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.  

Click here for information if you lost employment in Florida due to COVID-19.

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Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.